SOUTH CAROLINA long has embraced the use of fireworks - often by jovial, sometimes drunken, novices with no regard for others' peace, property or pets. But the practice is annoying and dangerous.
So it's no surprise that West Columbia City Council is considering banning the use of fireworks within the city limits. We commend the council for taking such bold action and urge state lawmakers to follow suit and ban the use of the most harmful, if not all, of the explosive devices now legal in our state. In addition to saving South Carolinians' property, it also would save the eyes, hands and limbs of unwitting children.
Banning them won't be easy. Not only do those making big bucks off fireworks have an active lobby, but there are many citizens on their side who argue fireworks are synonymous to the Fourth of July and an integral part of New Year's celebrations.
But what begins as revelry often leads to a 911 call. West Columbia leaders say the tradition has become a nuisance and a fire hazard. Mayor Bobby Horton said city firefighters put out four small blazes caused by fireworks in midsummer. With private displays becoming more elaborate - and thus more dangerous - city officials want to put an end to the explosions.
The danger is real. Fireworks reach temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees and can cause severe burns, scars, blindness and even death. People, oftentimes children, lose eyes or are forced to have amputations. In 2006, South Carolina had 253 non-fatal injuries due to fireworks, according to information on the Department of Health and Environmental Control's Web site. Nearly 40 percent of those injured were younger than 18. In addition to physical injury, fires sparked by the devices cause tens of millions of dollars in property loss nationwide each year. Often, the culprit is an errant bottle rocket.
West Columbia would be the first municipality in the Midlands to ban the private use of fireworks. The council has given initial approval to a proposal that would allow only displays approved by city officials. It does not ban the sale or possession of the devices. Quiet sparklers and pistol caps that make minor noise still could be used.
With fireworks being a nuisance in so many communities, it wouldn't be surprising if other municipalities consider following West Columbia. While that would be appropriate, it would not be the most effective way to approach this problem. The best, most efficient answer is for lawmakers to adopt a statewide ban on the use of fireworks (just as they should implement a statewide ban on workplace smoking) to take the burden off local governments and ensure uniform protection for this state's citizens.
The Palmetto State has some of the most liberal regulations in the country. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maine and Rhode Island ban all fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. The remaining states allow varying degrees of usage, some allowing only novelty items.
In North Carolina, anything that leaves the ground or explodes is illegal. In July, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reminded revelers of how dangerous some fireworks sold in South Carolina can be, demonstrating the danger by using explosive fireworks to blow apart a plastic glove filled with meat and to demolish a watermelon. Ultimately, Charlotte authorities counseled citizens that the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a professional show.
That's a perfect remedy for South Carolinians. Various entities, including Fort Jackson, offer professional displays throughout the year and especially during holidays.
If S.C. lawmakers pursued a ban, there would be those who will defend the tradition, pointing out the economic impact as well as the entertainment value of the fireworks free-for-alls. But the clear danger fireworks present outweighs any value in letting private citizens with little knowledge or training light them up in communities across our state.
It's time we doused the tradition that has for decades allowed every other yard in our state to be lit up with dangerous personal fireworks displays.