On the eve of another Fourth of July, Kentucky is of two minds on how to celebrate the anniversary of American independence. Most of the commonwealth accepts the standard set last year when the state legislature approved the sales and use of powerful fireworks that once entailed a trip out of state to purchase. After a boisterous holiday, some localities, including Frankfort, decided to roll back local laws to conform with the more restrictive statutes that previously applied. Many others, including Franklin County outside the Frankfort city limits, are sticking with the legislators’ edict, meaning firecrackers and rockets can legally be bought and set off by anyone who’s 18 or older.
Chances are you won’t be able to tell much difference, wherever you live. Some of the fireworks stands that once set up on shopping center parking lots in the city have moved just over the line, where the law is more permissive. But just as enthusiasts who really wanted to shoot the works have always been able to replenish their arsenals out of state, they can now do so with just a short trip to another jurisidiction. That generally made for a noisier Fourth inside and outside the city last year. City and county law-enforcement officers reported the number of fireworks complaints they received in 2011 was much higher than the year before.
Wherever you choose to have your blast, the law still says – as it did before the legislature’s action – that it’s illegal to ignite fireworks within 200 feet of buildings or other people. If it could be enforced, this would outlaw expressions of the explosive kind in most of the city and much of the county. The trouble is that no one really knows how to enforce fireworks laws. You can call the police (or the sheriff) about neighborhood miscreants running wild but by the time patrol cars get there (if they even bother), there may be nothing to see or hear. Police don’t generally accuse offenders of doing something somebody else said they did. They want to see, and hear, for themselves, which doesn’t often happen. Individuals who can identify the lawbreakers have the option of swearing out warrants, but most probably would rather not.
Anyone who gets caught setting off fireworks in the city, except between 10 a.m. and midnight today and Wednesday, can be fined $50 to $500. These rules do not apply in the county outside the city limits.
While city and county governments have declared independence from each other on this issue, their fire chiefs agree that high-octane displays are best left to the experts who put on the community show at Capitol View Park. City Chief Wallace Possich told State Journal reporter Lauren Hallow it’s fortunate that Frankfort has not seen more injuries and property damage. County Chief Gary Watts also opposes dangerous fireworks in the hands of amateurs.
The stakes are even higher in 2012. With a hot, dry spring and early summer punctuated by severe storms, even sparklers, which used to be about the only fireworks legally sold in Kentucky, are capable of setting grass and house fires. Lexington has banned all use of consumer fireworks this holiday while Scott and Woodford counties have similar bans.
At least, the Frankfort City Commission exhibited good judgment in reinstating previous limits on fireworks sales and use. Perhaps another year will find Fiscal Court doing the same. The state legislature may eventually come to its senses as well. In the meantime, be patient – and careful.