Local opinion columnists

Fireworks sales rules challenge sense of freedom

By From page A11 | June 29, 2014

With Independence Day rolling around, the yearly tradition of fireworks is sure to light a fire of anticipation in people’s minds.

The thrill of watching professional airborne displays is matched by the ability to create a personal show in one’s neighborhood with friends and family. Throughout our state, a hodge-podge of regulations monitor the marketing and use of personal fireworks.

When discussing fireworks, two general categories come to mind: the “safe and sane” variety that what most people envision, particularly at the temporary fireworks stands that pop up around our county at the end of every June; then there is “everything else.” A rule of thumb: if it launches into the air and explodes, it belongs in the “everything else” category.

To be clear, airborne exploding items are dangerous, particularly when the unit of measurement is measured in sticks of dynamite (e.g. M-80, M-100). A valid case can be made that they should in fact be regulated statewide, and for the most part, they are banned throughout California.

Safe and sane fireworks generally are ones that do not leave the ground. True, “safe” fireworks does not mean “idiot-proof,” since unfortunately, idiots seem to be very resourceful in getting their hands on things they probably shouldn’t have access to. Despite our best intentions, someone in the state will somehow manage to take something “safe” and cause irreparable damage with it. However, if one had to prioritize which variety was more dangerous, the “flying stick of dynamite” variety would come out way ahead.

Should all fireworks be branded with the same stroke?

A case can be made that having the ability to acquire and utilize “safe” fireworks in a community would reduce the demand for far more dangerous, banned fireworks.

Three communities allow the sale and operation of safe fireworks in Solano County: Dixon, Rio Vista and Suisun City. Oddly enough, these towns still stand despite the hypothetical apocalyptic repercussions of selling and operating safe and sane fireworks. To assume that these safe fireworks will not somehow migrate across the railroad tracks, or down a county highway, is naive. How many fireworks sold in Dixon end up in Vacaville? How many Suisun City fireworks end up in Fairfield? More importantly, how many Fairfield and Vacaville firework dollars end up in other cities?

Even when communities allow sales, the process is not without controversy. In Suisun City, safe and sane fireworks are allowed for sale, with some portion of proceeds nobly going to support community events, including the annual fireworks show. However, the caveat is that only three organizations per year may operate booths, and those three are determined by a lottery.
These fundraisers are a vital financial stream to many organizations in our county. A large number of organizations would love to participate in these sales, but are blocked due to restrictive policies. Why should the number of permitted vendors be relegated to a lottery? Let market forces decide how many vendors the community can support.

One redeeming aspect of the Suisun City policy is that there is a profit-sharing program that the city benefits from. Communities that currently don’t permit firework sales could use this concept to provide a funding stream for other Independence Day activities, and/or offset the cost of increased public safety coverage.

It is ironic that a display long associated with American independence is so tightly regulated. To have policies that prevent community members and organizations from celebrating liberty and benefiting financially seems to contradict the purpose of the holiday. In our cities, the conundrum remains: Does the reduced hazard outweigh the lost benefit to the community?

Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at [email protected]

Brian Thiemer


Discussion | 3 comments

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  • CD BrooksJune 29, 2014 - 7:22 am

    Mr. Thiemer, great article and you present some interesting points. I have contacted the Fairfield mayor, city council, fire and police chiefs regarding this issue. Fire Chief Velasquez and councilwoman Moy were kind enough to respond. The law against using fireworks is clear in Fairfield and I am still waiting to see if something will be stated in some fashion publically. I don’t begrudge Suisun for their position but it does make our situation here a bit dicey to say the least. Having said that, the law is the law and I suppose those of you choosing to challenge it will find out how serious our law enforcers really are?

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  • Mr. PracticalJune 29, 2014 - 8:14 am

    Brian, there are a couple reasons why Suisun only allows 3 fireworks sales locations. Each location requires ongoing inspections by our small, primarily volunteer fire department during the sales period. That requires resources during the peak of fire season. Having helped operate one of the non profit booths the first year, I can tell you that if additional locations were allowed, it would not be worth the effort for the non profits to participate. It requires approximately 400 to 500 volunteer hours to operate a booth. The fireworks vendor charges 50% for cost of goods. The city receives over half of the net profit. Of the remaining net profit, the non profit has to pay their expenses which can include a fee for the location space, lanterns, locks, meals for the volunteers (if they choose to do that) and any pre-sales marketing which is critical to a successful fundraiser. The primary purpose of the safe & sane fireworks sales, as you mentioned, is to provide funding for the area's premier annual event. Our city leaders should be applauded for coming up with a creative solution to fund the event that has a minimal cost to taxpayers.

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  • JimboJune 29, 2014 - 6:16 pm

    Oh please. All over Vacaville people are setting off not only skyrockets but large mortar type fireworks.

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