Ban the Booms

  • Posted on Oct 15, 2017

Here's today's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier column.  Fireworks is now a major issue affecting quality of life in Cedar Falls, and everywhere else that's deciding whether to allow consumers to blow off fireworks in their back yards.   

It was a bad idea, as residents with ears and sensitivities know, and Cedar Falls will start reading (and I hope passing) a ban ordinance on Nov. 20.
  
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I grew up in Iowa, where fireworks stayed illegal for decades until last June. Fireworks were outlawed, so only outlaws had fireworks.   

 I also witnessed injuries and barely escaped a few myself. Those little gunpowder sticks and rockets were dangerous, and injuries could be serious, even life-
threatening. 

 True story:  I spent days in Sartori hospital during my early teens being treated for emergency hernia surgery. I shared a room with a man in his early twenties, a good-natured fellow who had lost the tip of his thumb and first two fingers to a cherry bomb.  

 He was wearing a tux at a wedding and as a joke, someone had tossed the cherry bomb at him.  It fell into his cummerbund—that decorative waist-band that completes the front of a tux—and he pitched it out just as it went off.  Maimed for life. 

 To be fair, “cherry bombs” and “M-80s” have since been banned everywhere.  

 Still, injuries from less lethal but still legal fireworks in Iowa have in fact
increased.  Deb Krebil, Marion Fire Chief and president of the Iowa Association of Profession Fire Chiefs, emailed me the following statement from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “In 2017, there were as many firework injuries at UIHC as were seen in the previous three years combined.  In addition, the injuries seen this past summer were more severe, resulting in a greater proportion of surgeries and hospital admissions.  Lastly, the number of patients injured who were under the age of 18 increased.” 

Yet public safety is only the first reason to ban consumer fireworks.  

Let’s hear it for peace and quiet. Celebrating national holidays can get noisy just from sheer exuberance, and I’m all for that as long as citizens can choose.   
But neighbors shooting fireworks don’t allow choice. Booms, bangs, and falling hot ashes impinge on a whole neighborhood. This is especially true for pets and PTSD sufferers, who struggle mightily with explosions that mimic both thunderstorms and battlefield firefights.     

Though state legislature legalized sales of fireworks, they also allowed cities to continue banning them.  That has generated statewide controversy, and Cedar Falls will be reading a new ordnance banning the booms on November 20th, according to Mayor Jim Brown. 

 Those against a city-wide ban set forth three arguments:  Revenue, freedom, and enforceability.  Granted, revenue from consumer explosives now stay in Iowa. That’s also one solid argument for legalizing recreational marijuana. So fireworks will stay legal for purchase.  For use, go outside city limits.

 Freedom?  It stops at the eardrums.  That’s why we have noise ordnances.  
Enforceability remains a major issue. Fireworks shooters will always be with us, and bans might even make fireworks more attractive for scofflaws. 

Still, a ban means possible arrests and fines.  Even though it’s hard to catch fireworks shooters, they’re subject to neighbors’ complaints and citizens’ arrests.  
These Iowa cities have already completely banned explosives as private entertainment:  Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Johnston, Burlington, Iowa City, Coralville, Dubuque, and West Des Moines. 

 Cedar Falls and Waterloo should join them.     
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