This Independence Day will show an increase of criminal activity in the state of Iowa. The crime? Illegally shooting off fireworks. All fireworks (with exceptions being sparklers and some small novelties) have been illegal for retail purchase in the state of Iowa since 1938. They were banned after the tragic Spencer, Iowa fire of 1931, where hot and dry combinations combined with a lit sparkler being dropped onto an indoor fireworks display led to a fire that blazed through the town and burned 100 buildings to the ground before being put out.
In recent years, some Iowa legislators (such as State Senator Mark Chelgren) have brought bills before the body that would either legalize retail fireworks or drastically amend the current law to allow more options to be sold in the state. However, these bills have continually been shot down; many Democrats have referred to legislation allowing the sale of retail fireworks in Iowa to be a danger to public safety, or they have implied that it would cause another fire like the Spencer fire of 1931.
Both of these ideas are wrong. To begin, the fire that ravaged Spencer would practically be impossible to recreate. The blocks that burnt were comprised of buildings built from solid wood. Along with being built with an extremely flammable substance, many buildings had awnings out, and also had stairwells that led directly from the front door to the second floor, allowing a sort of ‘funnel for the fire’. Combine the structure of the buildings with a summer so hot and dry that 100 people had already died, and of COURSE the town blazed to the ground. The chance of a place in Iowa meeting those conditions once again is almost 100% completely unlikely.
The argument that legalization of fireworks will result in much more injury and death is also flawed. Currently in Iowa, fireworks are smuggled in constantly from South Lineville, Missouri along with other towns in states bordering Iowa. When you can refer to ‘the red fireworks barn’ and everybody knows that you’re talking about the main fireworks shop in South Lineville that sits right across the border, it is clear that fireworks are coming into Iowa with or without them being legalized.
Iowans are still shooting off fireworks, but because they have not been legalized, some don’t know how to do it safely. Improper usage of fireworks still causes injuries and fires each year in Iowa, and there is no firework safety education for the public at all. Instead of pointing to a few national figures of firework related injuries and saying that Iowa will join those statistics if fireworks are legalized, wouldn’t it make more sense to legalize them and then push firework safety education in the state?
Pyrotechnics Guild International offers a Display Operator Certification course for anyone over the age of 18 who wants to shoot off a fireworks display of some kind. The National Council on Fireworks Safety also offers plenty of materials and tips that cities can implement to promote fireworks safety. In addition to these two, there are countless other organizations that work to promote fun, yet safe, fireworks usage. The state of Iowa would be extremely wise to gain a new source of revenue through the legalization of fireworks, and then to follow that up by promoting firework safety education throughout the state.
I’m looking forward to the 2017 session, and hoping that unlike previous sessions, a bill will actually pass through the Iowa Legislature that legalizes fireworks. May this be the last Independence Day where Iowans have to smuggle fireworks into the state for their celebrations.