The fireworks bill: The freedom to do something stupid

The story about the fireworks bill on the way to Gov. Mark Dayton has struck a chord with several MPR readers. Some of them favor allowing the sale of big fireworks to people. Some are steadfastly opposed, but all of the responses involve some “fireworks memory” of a previous time.

Joan Wilson’s story, however, was particularly compelling. The Edina resident grew up in Loveland, Ohio, near a fireworks factory, she says.


My grandmother ran a daycare on their home on 10 rural acres just outside Loveland, and I spent most of my days there because my mother worked at Grandma’s Daycare. There was an 8 acre stand of trees behind their home, and the infamous shacks of the “fireworks factory” were on the other side of a chain link fence behind our woods. Every so often (at least 4 times in 10 years)the fireworks factory would explode, and for about 3 to 5 days after each “accident”, we were all confined to the house while a team of local volunteers would scour the area for a half mile in every direction, cleaning up body parts and un-exploded materials that rained down on the nearby residential areas. My Grandfather would stay home from work on these days so that he could help with the cleanup. I recall him coming home and vomiting extensively, whil e crying, trying to tell my grandmother about the human remains that were hanging from trees and littered about the ground. The explosions were never mentioned in the local paper, and the workers, mostly undocumented, were forgotten and replaced by the next batch of disposable workers/victims. Even as a child, I felt the true cost of our “fun” was not worth the cost in human lives and misery, and I have never been able to understand our need for such dangerous and polluting chicanery.

Supporters of the fireworks bill see it as a “freedom” issue. If people want to get hurt with fireworks, they should have the right to get hurt with fireworks.

“We need to start treating people like responsible adults and quit babysitting them,” Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, the bill’s sponsor said.

  • Pat McGee

    You would never know the big fireworks are illegal in Minnesota by the number of displays in my very suburban neighborhood. There are too many to count and the displays are extensive. Signing or not signing the bill probably won’t make much difference where I live. Well, maybe there will be even more-the people who just don’t feel like driving to Wisconsin for their supplies might join in.

  • Disco

    I know it has become fashionable to like John Kriesel. I can’t stand him. He clearly does not possess a capability for deep thought and consideration.

  • davidz

    The “right to get hurt with fireworks” does not extend to immunity from the issues that those fireworks cause to others. A couple of years ago, when it was very dry, my neighbors were flinging their fireworks into the air from a few houses down the alley. I collected a grocery sack’s worth of detritus from my roof and yard, many surrounded by scorch marks on the brown grass,

    I brought that sack to those neighbors, very early in the next morning (7ish), banging loudly on their door (which they didn’t like either, in their hungover state, since their previous nights display was accompanied by a LOT of alcohol consumption).

    “I do believe these are yours, I thought you might like them back”.

  • Anonymous Coward

    For me, it’s a tough issue. At face value, I think people should be allowed to own and use fireworks, even if said fireworks are big enough to blow the person’s fool head off.

    However, there is the potential for someone to really hurt innocent bystanders with powerful fireworks, and there’s where I’m not sure which way to jump. On the one hand, I think most people will be responsible. On the other hand, you’re always going to have idiots like the guy in the video who have no idea what the word “foresight” even means.

    What I find interesting about Rep. Kriesel’s comment is that it could be much more readily applied to, say, marijuana use and homosexual marriage. In either case, the only people affected are those who willingly participate. If said people are adults, we should treat them accordingly and not get involved.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I realize that last paragraph could be construed as a massive conversation hijack. A more relevant issue might be that as adults, we are allowed by law to do many things which put other people in danger (driving cars is a huge example).

    At what point is it the responsibility of the law to remove the possibility that we can misuse that freedom?

    Or, at what point is the law only required to punish those who use that freedom irresponsibly, after the fact?

  • JB

    While I don’t doubt Ms. Wilson’s memories of such a traumatic event, I can’t help but feel she’s being a bit sensational in her story. In looking for more information on the factory in question, I came across this article from 1999 which highlighted the Rozzi family business. It also talked a bit about the dangers of the work.

    Paul Rozzi was one of 12 people who died in accidents at the Rozzi factory from 1947 to 1975, according to Enquirer files. The Rozzis say the factory is safer now, in large part because today’s chemical compounds are less sensitive to friction and static, which can cause them to ignite.

    Disco, I’m going to have to disagree with your take on Kriesel. Agree or disagree with his opinions, I think it’s refreshing to have a politician at the capital who can think for himself. His stance on the marriage amendment and his jabs at fellow republicans over other issues are prime examples. See the discussion on this mornings 5×8…I think he would be an example of a “true conservative.”

  • Bob Collins

    // the only people affected are those who willingly participate.

    I have a son who’s a paramedic. I have several friends who are medical helicopter pilots. You can’t believe the life-threatening situations they have to go into because someone thought nobody else got hurt if someone blew themselves apart.

    A week or so ago he was at an accident up north. A young woman, drunk, was following a friend’s car too close and rear-ended it. Her passenger went through the winter. My son got to tell everyone that she was dead. It wasn’t a big deal at the time because first responders have this whole adrenalin thin.

    But later, it kicks in…. it’s own form of PTSD.

    So when people say they’ve got the “freedom” to not wear helmets or not wear seat belts or blow themselves up with fireworks, I’m OK with that, I guess, as long as they don’t delude themselves into thinking it’s a solitary sacrifice.

  • Hillary

    One of my friends has to call the cops a couple times every summer because neighborhood kids are shooting bottle rockets at her attached garage. I don’t want to think what would happen if they have access to more powerful fireworks.

  • HJB

    I don’t get the “freedom” argument. Fireworks are every bit as dangerous as guns, but if I want to shoot a gun I have to take it to my local gun range; I can’t just sit in my backyard with a beer in my hand and start firing into the sky. So why are we going to let my idiot neighbor shoot flaming projectiles all over my densely populated urban neighborhood after he’s polished off the better part of a 12-pack on the Fourth of July?

    Anyone who really feels compelled to stare at bright shiny things exploding in the sky can just pack a lawn chair and go watch a professional fireworks show. Either that or we need to pass another law that says I can shoot my neighbor if his bottle rocket sets my house on fire. Kriesel can author that one too.

  • David

    I’d rather see an education/permit/license/whatever system put in place so people have some idea of what could go wrong and how to respect other people’s property/rights.

  • Andy

    I haven’t been a fan of fireworks for a long time, but I never outright hated them until we adopted a dog who is terrified, and I do mean TERRIFIED, of every pop, bang, boom. Thunderstorms are bad enough, but they pass and are somewhat predictable (we know of approaching thunderstorms from him). Fireworks that happen at any hour of the day and night, and that happen for nights in a row in the middle of the best part of summer, are a complete nightmare. He won’t go outside, won’t even go to the bathroom, and has even given up his dinner some nights. We live in South Minneapolis, a very residential neighborhood full of single-family homes. I love my neighborhood for 11 months of the year, but not as much for the month around July 4th.

    So, where is my freedom to live in my house and enjoy my yard without the sounds of explosions all around me? Where is my freedom to not have to pick up the scorched remains of fireworks in my yard and garden, my driveway and sidewalks, even out front porch? We’ve gotten to the point where we try to disappear every July 4th and get far, far, far, away from other people just to get some peace for our dog and ourselves. That doesn’t feel like freedom to me.

  • BenCh

    A couple things I have thought of since first reading this…

    Similar to the car analogy, we also allow guns, which are more dangerous in my opinion (although there are safety classes for firearms).

    Also, as was possibly eluded to in some of the comments, there is a level of perceived safety when using fireworks. most kids don’t think they can die from a firework to the head (which almost killed a relative of mine in Wisconsin). The biggest problem I see is that parents will give kids fireworks or they will find a way to get them without their parents.

    I have been in the dumb stages of adolescence and have thrown bottle rockets into a fire with my friends, and lit firecrackers and tossed them at other people. I think overall we are not prepared to deal with how kids will treat larger fireworks. Heck, we can’t even get them to wear their seatbelts all the time! I say keep it the way it is (so I would change my vote in the poll from “don’t know”).

  • Jeff

    What’s so fun about these anyway? They pollute. They annoy. They flash and make a loud noise – big whoop. Go into your garage, clap your hands on your ears and flash the lights on and off. Do something like that that doesn’t bother me, the environment or the animals (wild and pets) in the neighborhood. (Hey you kids, get off of my lawn, too!)

  • Anonymous Coward

    @Bob: I totally agree that there are plenty of people who are bad at figuring out whether their actions could harm others. I hope you didn’t interpret my comment to mean that those folks shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions. Anyway, the cases I was referring to, where someone actually is doing something that only affects themselves, are pretty much irrelevant to the whole fireworks issue.

    Someone mentioned licensing requirements for fireworks similar to what we have for firearms, and I would be all for that. Something more open than the system we have right now (I have no idea what it takes to get licensed to “operate” big-time fireworks, but I would guess it’s not easy or cheap) but more restrictive than what the bill we’re discussing would allow.

    Laws against using fireworks while drunk would seem appropriate, as well.

  • Al

    The bill should’ve allowed local governments to restrict bottlerockets and rockets. They are very unpredictable and responsible for most of the fires and injuries. Many states have this restriction.

  • Mark.

    Same conversation we heard 6 years ago when they passed conceal and carry permits.

    Minnesota will become the wild west!

    People will be dead everywhere!

    Governor Dayton Vetoing this bill will do EXACTLY NOTHING to prevent the fireworks you all hate so much. They are here already and all you are doing with your scare tactics and boo hoo stories is allowing Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota to make tens of millions in revenue every year.

    Allowing others to light fireworks does not sound like freedom to you? What does then? Engaging in activities you approve of and enjoy?

    What a strange definition you have of freedom. I should not be all that surprised from the MPR audience though.

  • Bob Collins

    // I should not be all that surprised from the MPR audience though.

    (swig)

  • Mika Gens

    We have contacted both the bill’s author and Gov. Dayton’s office. Our experience in the inner ring of Minneapolis is narrow lots with lots of tree cover and more folks living in non-owner occupied dwellings for which they have little responsibility.

    The police do little to assist, even when we had people on the roof of a large apartment building adjacent to the freeway shooting fireworks down at cars sniper style. We have youth shooting fireworks from their own homes out of windows and youth using bottle rockets to “aim” at squirrels.

    I understand that the bill holds the various units of local goverment responsible for setting some rules. We feel this would be very difficult to enforce and is one of those “Pandora’s Box” issues as was the Ventura repeal.

    For those of us homeowners who really would like to enjoy our backyards on a lovely summer evening this is one more “freedom” (like recreational fires) that we could do without.

    And speaking as a bird lover lover, fireworks can shell-shock and kill. And speaking as an animal lover I’d like my dogs to be able to be outside with us, not hiding in the basement.

    If the Gov. signs this, we will be eagerly awaiting the changing of the Police Chief here in January 2013 to see if there will be some changes in enforcment on livibility issues such as these.

  • Andy

    Instances of misuse can be traced to ignorance and poor judgement.

    The bill that is sitting on Governor Dayton’s desk only allows fireworks 5 weeks out of the year. Any scare tactics provided by the MPLS/St. Paul burn center are utter fabrications. The single firework item that causes far and away the most injuries and burns is already legal in Minnesota. It is the common sparkler.

    I view the fireworks I shoot as an artistic outlet. I have the ability to light my fireworks electronically, in synchronization with music. This is all done with consumer fireworks in my own backyard, mind you.

    It is a travesty that, as a result of the actions of a few, I am currently not able to do what I love with out the fear of being confronted by intoxicated neighbors and the police.

    I am responsible, I am safe, I am courteous. I should be able to celebrate the creation of our great country the way I see fit.

    You can’t regulate stupidity.

  • Jeff

    You can’t regulate stupidity! And MN & WI are full of morons ready to make a crap load of unnecessary noise throughout the year! First it will be the 4th of July, next NewYears Eve. Maybe we should make shooting guns into the air on holidays legal too!

    Courteous? Making loud noises when you want to disturbs MY peace! There is nothing responsible or courteous about it. What if your bottle rocket starts your neighbors house on fire by accident of course?

    Keep the exploding fireworks in WI! We can make far more revenue by arresting and ticketing the MORONS that want to disturb the peaceful summer evenings!

  • Andy

    Jeff, I am sorry you think Minnesota and Wisconsin are full of morons.

    You are obviously ignorant as to the workings of fireworks. Those of us with a greater understanding of them know that they are in fact quite safe when used properly. Proper use is as easy as following the directions printed on the side of the item.

    Fireworks would only make noise for 5 weeks out of the year. I could complain all day long about other loud things I listen to over the course of the summer. Superbikes on the street? Yep. Cars with noisy mufflers? Check. Neighbors working the radial arm saw? You betcha!

    Just because you find something slightly annoying doesn’t mean it should be outlawed.

    Have you given any consideration to the economics of legalization? No more tax money would be wasted by the police in their admittedly futile efforts to prevent the use of fireworks. Additionally, a large amount of people would find a nice summer job in a fireworks tent.

    The fact that you equate fireworks to firearms worries me.

  • Eric

    My Thought about Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology and Mr. Dayton,

    Lets make everything illegal that “possibly” may or may not cause eye injury. How many things that are legal that can cause eye injury? If I accidently get poked in the eye by a branch while mowing lets outlaw mowers! Oh tree’s too! If I get sand in my eyes by high winds on the farm then let’s outlaw farms and spend tax dollars to harness the wind! I believe some eye doctors have unwillfully harmed their patient’s eyes by accident, risky procedures or lack of training. Let’s make all eye doctors illegal but not enforce it because of the risk to their patients. All Minnesota’s residents should have the final say as far as what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Not some special interest group. I believe everyone knows or knows of law enforcement official’s who have purchase illegal fireworks and used them their selves. To start enforcing the Arial firework laws would be Hypocritical and set themselves as above the laws they enforce. This decision not to legalize aerial fireworks is why any person easily influenced by small isolated group of non-important job killers to control Minnesota resident’s rights to make a living should never have been elected in the first place. They have no clue how to create an economic recovery plan for Minnesota.( Arial fireworks have been purchased and used by most Minnesota’s residents for decades by traveling across state borders to buy them. By legalizing other Arial fireworks in MN, more jobs would be created which we have an extreme shortage of already. Fireworks are no more dangerous than driving to work every day or the current legal fireworks being sold and used. The current legal fireworks are just as dangerous but they are legalized, (Most of the legal Minnesota fireworks are aerial because the shoot in the air, from 2 inches to 10 foot or more, “above ground” hence the term “Aerial”) look up the definition! I believe Mr. Dayton’s decision was influenced mainly by Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology which thinks all Minnesota’s residents are incompetent morons. We don’t need your association to protect us from ourselves. The laws that are already on the books are for private property and if an accident happens it’s a private matter between the property owner and the insurance company. Should we give Mr. Dayton another chance to do the right thing for Minnesota residents and pass a law which is not enforced anyway and allow new jobs to be created in the private sector instead of the government sector? If a person becomes born into family business and has eaten from a silver spoon doesn’t mean they have business and economic sense! Hoping the elections for governor come soon, I know who I am not voting for! I am voting for someone who has economic smarts, not bureaucratic farts!