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Archive for Monday, July 15, 2002

Fireworks restriction: Will it work?

July 15, 2002

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Topeka prohibits the use of fireworks that fly more than 8 feet into the air. But you might not have known that if you were in the capital July 4.

"Fireworks saturated the night sky ... as the multicolored explosives tinted the city below," the Topeka Capital-Journal reported two days later.

Sgt. Darin Scott, a spokesman for the Topeka Police Department, said police did their best to enforce the ban. It's just not always easy.

"The bans are for people who are going to be law-abiding citizens," Scott told the Journal-World. "When you have a large community, the ban's fairly difficult to enforce  although our officers do so, as the call load permits."

As the Lawrence City Commission this week begins discussing how to address the issue here, it appears plenty of Kansas communities have bans or tight restrictions on the use of fireworks during the Independence Day holiday. And their example suggests private pyrotechnic displays in Lawrence neighborhoods probably won't come to a stop, even if the commission forbids them.

Commissioner David Dunfield, who said he's leaning toward a ban on everything but minor fireworks like sparklers and "snakes," said Topeka's problem might be that it hadn't gone far enough.

"My impression of that kind of restriction is that it would be extremely hard to enforce," he said. "To say that a fountain that shoots 6 feet is OK, but one that shoots 10 feet is not, I think, is asking for trouble.

"If we're going to have any hope of reasonably enforcing a ban," Dunfield said, "it needs to be comprehensive."

Other officials, such as City Manager Mike Wildgen, said compliance would increase over the years as more people became aware of a ban.

"It's going to take some time, if a ban happens," he said. "Most people will obey the law."

Ottawa has a fireworks ban so tight that sparklers don't even make the cut. City Clerk Scott Bird said the law has been on the books "a long time."

"I'm kind of surprised you guys haven't done this in the past," Bird said of Lawrence's contemplation of a ban.

Bird said his city's ban was "not very" effective, but then reversed himself.

"It does some good," he said. "I know the police confiscated quite a bit of fireworks. But I know I saw quite a bit myself, especially the evening of (July 4). It's so pervasive, it's hard to enforce."

But Patricia Sinclair, a Lawrence resident who favors a ban, said her parents live in Ottawa and speak favorably of that city's regulations.

"My mom said she heard the odd pop," Sinclair said. "It wasn't like Lawrence, where you couldn't sleep that night."

Wildgen agreed a ban would make a difference.

"People violate a number of city laws," he said. "People speed every day, and the police can't stop every speeder. But it's still illegal, and most people comply."

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