Students launch petition for fireworks change

Sixteen-year-old Chris Paradies has a message for those who want to keep fireworks banned in Lawrence.

“Suck it up and let some people have some fun,” Paradies said.

Paradies, a junior at Lawrence High School, says he believes thousands of other people feel the same way. He is launching a petition drive, hoping to repeal the three-year-old ban. He and five friends will begin collecting signatures at the downtown sidewalk sale July 21.

“We basically don’t think it is fair to punish everybody for some stupid actions by a few people,” Paradies said.

The petition would not be a legal protest petition, forcing the issue to a referendum. Instead, Paradies hopes to attract enough signatures that city commissioners rethink the ban, which prohibits virtually all types of fireworks in the city limits.

Paradies said he would like to see the use of all standard fireworks allowed July 2-4. But he said he also would be open to permitting all but a few types of fireworks.

Or, he said, if commissioners don’t want to decide the issue, he would be happy for the commission to put the ban to a citywide vote.

Lawrence High School juniors Chris Paradies, left, and Audrey Seybert have started a petition to legalize fireworks in Lawrence for the Fourth of July. They plan to collect signatures during the Downtown Sidewalk Sale on July 21.

“I think this (ban) was just about a couple of people who complained and city commissioners went along with it,” Paradies said. “Fireworks are safe if they’re in the right hands.”

Commissioners mixed

City commissioners didn’t see it that way in late 2002, when they approved the ban at the urging of Fire Chief Jim McSwain. A year earlier, a fire that destroyed a Lawrence apartment was blamed on improper use of fireworks, and fire and medical officials had long said the devices created possibilities for injury.

City Commissioner David Schauner on Monday said those reasons haven’t changed.

“The ban is not perfect, but it is something that we should work to preserve,” Schauner said. “How many people have to have their eyes put out or receive serious burns before we say this is not a good idea in the city?”

But Mayor Boog Highberger said he would be interested to see how many signatures the petition garners. He said he would be hard-pressed to overturn a decision of a previous commission, but he said the current ban was tough to enforce.

“Before the ban, it seemed like the biggest problem was that a lot of people we’re bringing in small arsenals and getting completely over the top,” Highberger said. “If we could find a way to let kids shoot off a few fireworks, that would be worth considering.”

This year, Lawrence police officers responded to 313 calls concerning fireworks from July 1 to July 5. In order to adequately respond to the calls, the department on July 4 devoted four patrol cars to respond exclusively to fireworks-related complaints.

Topeka changes

Several firework vendors in the county said they were not involved in the petition effort, but were glad some individuals were becoming active on the issue.

Gary Bartz, an owner of Bartz Bros. Fireworks, said he hoped commissioners would be willing to rethink their positions. That happened recently in Topeka, where the city council in late June repealed decade-old regulations that prohibited fireworks that shot sparks higher than six feet in the air or went beyond a 12-foot diameter. Now, residents there can shoot essentially any type of fireworks.

Vicki Zielinski, the Topeka fire marshal, said she was still awaiting reports to see whether this year’s July 4 celebration produced more injuries or property damage. She said she was concerned that the new regulations could lead to more accidents.

“The bad part is that once (fireworks) leave the ground they are really uncontrollable,” Zielinski said.

If Paradies and his fellow students are able to get city commissioners to change the ban, it wouldn’t be the first time that Lawrence youths have won a victory at City Hall. A student-led initiative resulted in the construction of a $125,000 skate park in Centennial Park in 1998.

Paradies thinks a petition drive led by students will be effective because fireworks are associated with so many childhood memories.

“Basically, I’m just the typical teenager who likes to shoot off fireworks,” Paradies said. “I think it is a good way to celebrate my independence.”