Thursday, July 1, 2010

Things That Go Bang, Crackle and Pop

Having grown up in the northeastern part of the U.S., setting off personal fireworks was not part of my growing up. I remember using sparklers but that's about it. Even in mostly rural Vermont, fire works sales in the state were illegal, and it was rare for people to have much in the way of personal booms that they may have imported from elsewhere.

Checking out the offerings at Fireworks City...

However, in Missouri, there is a healthy tradition of fireworks sales. Consequently, there is a healthy tradition of setting off one's own fireworks. Consequently to that, there are people who get hurt shooting off fireworks. And because of that we have a complex web of laws and rules regarding consumer grade fireworks in the Kansas City metro. The web of laws leads to ridiculousness every Fourth of July as a good number of generally law abiding citizens turn into nasty lawbreakers for a couple hours after dark on the Fourth of July.

Ah, something people of all races can agree on--blowing shit up is fun!

I have been known to set off an explosion or two on the Fourth myself, but I always follow all the instructions and do it in a safe place. Even so, I've been reminded that this is not child's play. Probably the most frightening thing I've had happen was when an artillery tube fell over, and the shell that was in it-- was shot out sideways rather than up. That was a little scary! In KCMO, both the sales and possession of all fireworks is illegal, as it is in many cities in the metro on both sides of the state line. However, in Cass County, and its cities, with exceptions and variations, the selling and possessing of fire works is legal around July 4th. So, you can drive south on Holmes Road, and as soon as you cross the city line--fireworks are for sale. Several tents pop up every year. My personal favorite is Crazy Joe's, but you don't have to go that far, you can stop in at Fireworks City just over the city/county line.

So here you are, you have a prohibition, and you have easy access to the prohibited item. What do you think happens? Yup, people buy the prohibited item in the areas where it is legal to sell and possess the item and take it to areas where it is not legal to sell or possess said item. Then they use it for its intended purpose, making booms and pretty lights with reports. This poses a problem for law enforcement. The problem is, just about every neighborhood will break out in fireworks during the Fourth of July. Some neighborhoods sound like a war zone and develop a haze of smoke from all the explosives being detonated. Side Bar: During the recent flooding a police dispatcher asked the Sargent on duty, "Do you want the reports of high water given to individual officers, or dispatched as information like we do with fireworks calls on the Fourth?" That's when I knew it had rained a bunch and flash flooding was bad. So the mishmash of laws is confusing at least and difficult at most. Easy access makes enforcement for cities with a zero tolerance statute almost impossible. Those who sell fireworks, especially businesses very near KCMO and Overland Park, KS (another metro city with a zero tolerance law) have to know that people are taking their purchases to cities where it is illegal to have them. I wish everyone was sensible and safe taking care with their own safety and the safety and property of others while using fireworks. We know, however, this is not the case, as has been demonstrated over and over. And so we have laws and rules to try and protect us from something that can be dangerous to us. The problem comes in our little corner of America from all the different laws that have been put into effect in our 400+ square mile metroplex. I would just as soon have laws that were not quite so strict, and also consider setting up areas where fireworks could be used freely and legally. Some people would like to see a complete ban everywhere in the metro. Alas, some municipalities have come to be known as fireworks havens and make money on the taxes on the permits for and sales of fireworks, so that will never happen.

We have things that happen every Fourth of July in the Big Town: people shoot off fireworks all over the metro, including cities with prohibitions. OPKS will have more luck enforcing the law than KCMO. Someone will get hurt with fireworks. A structure will at least be threatened by fire, and at most be set on fire by fireworks. There will be news stories reminding us of fireworks safety. A poor innocent watermelon will be blown up on TV. We will be told to "leave it to the professionals." Ordinary citizens will be interviewed on TV and be completely split on the subject--some for a full ban and others for looser regulation.

Just be safe out there people. Whether you decide to shoot off personal fireworks or go to a display, be safe and sane. Don't drink and drive either. I think I'd rather take my chances with a loose bottle rocket than a loose drunk behind the wheel.

And remember why we celebrate, because this is the greatest country with the most freedom in the world, and July 4th is our great country's birthday.

(Photos are from Fireworks City's website--link here, and here is a link for Crazy Joe's.)


Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I know one man who had an eye out as a child over poorly handled fireworks.

And we never did anything but sparklers either. However my husband loved them and I learned to enjoy the them. My personal favorite is the chicken that lays the glowing egg.

I love how the boxes look and the big and little lights. They are a guilty pleasure. The only thing I don't like are the black cats. A lot of sound and no light!!

Happy days to you!
Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T:
There is no doubt that fireworks are not children's toys and letting kids use fireworks, even with supervision, is bad parental judgment.

I totally understand both sides of the arguments about fireworks. If I use them, I am very careful and follow all the boring safety rules.

Ya, straight Black Cat fire crackers are boring--they make a kind that goes bang and sparkles too--I always look for those.

I wish you a great Fourth of July holiday--it's one of my favorites.

The Observer
Nah, me, shoot fireworks? No, no, that's not legal in my city. ;-)

Bob G. said...

In Philly, ONLY sparklers...(and littel friction powered wheels that sparked when you pushed a metal tab...fireworks were for the PROFESSIIONALS...and we went to them every year.

None of this macho BS "watch what I can set off, dude" crap going on, today.
We have numbnuts that set off HEAVY-DUTY "mortar rounds" (as I call 'em) in the darn INTERSECTION of the streets!
Gee, I thought that was what a playground or PARK was for...silly me.

Yeah, these folks NEVER work, BUT have plenty of $$$ for booze, fast food and FIREWORKS...hundreds of BUCKS worth of fireworks...amazing.

I sure miss those GOOD old days.

the observer said...

Bob G:
Yes, I always wonder about the budget of some of these folks and where they get that big shit. I never have any big shit, and I don't spend much--nor does anyone else I know.

We had rain which started right around dusk, so that put a damper on fireworks big and small, but I think everyone had fun anyway!

Glad all you survived. I do remember those friction wheel thingies now that you mention them...

Have a Great Week!