Ten years seems long enough for Lawrence residents to get accustomed to a fireworks ban.
Unfortunately, as many observers predicted in 2002, what residents have gotten used to is a fireworks ban that is so laxly enforced it can pretty much be ignored.
Before 2003, fireworks were allowed to be shot inside city limits on certain days and during certain hours to celebrate the Fourth of July. However, city commissioners, who had received a number of complaints about fireworks, decided late in 2002 to institute a ban on all fireworks except for a few non-exploding items like sparklers and snakes. They saw the ordinance as a safety measure for the city.
Judging by the number of fireworks being exploded in some Lawrence neighborhoods Thursday night, it seems that the ordinance has fallen far short of addressing the safety issue or any other perceived goal of the decade-old fireworks ban. Undeterred by the ban and free of any city instructions setting hours during which fireworks would be allowed, many Lawrence residents celebrated the July 4 holiday by exploding fountains and aerial shells well into the early morning hours.
The ban is almost impossible for police officers to enforce. Lawrence police said they had 102 complaints about fireworks from Thursday through Friday morning but reported only one confirmed citation on Friday. That’s discouraging but understandable. Police responding to a complaint may or may not be able to locate the alleged perpetrators. Even if they do, they are more likely to issue a warning than a ticket.
Just because many people don’t want to do something they know is illegal, the fireworks ban almost certainly has reduced the use of fireworks inside city limits. However, because a sizable number of people still think the fun of shooting fireworks on the Fourth of July outweighs any threat of a penalty, the fireworks ban hasn’t come close to eliminating the safety and noise issues that it sought to address. It’s notable that this year’s 102 complaints represents a significant increase from about 70 complaints last year.
Perhaps the fireworks ban is worth having because it allows authorities to take legal action in extreme cases, but, for the most part, Lawrence residents still must rely on the judgment and courtesy of their neighbors to use fireworks in a safe manner during reasonable hours.
We can only hope that judgment and courtesy will increase in years to come.