Legislators on Tuesday told Boone County officials that a modification to the state criminal code to stop people from using fireworks in an unsafe manner might be the best way to empower authorities to crack down on local fireworks wars.
Cities are currently allowed to make laws restricting use of fireworks, while counties do not the same authority.
Modifying the criminal code would involve creating a crime pertaining to the use of fireworks, a misdemeanor.
If the legislature were to modify the criminal code, the county would not have to create an ordinance for it to go into effect. If the state statute regulating fireworks in cities was amended to include counties, an ordinance would be required.
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill and Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson and other county officials met Tuesday with state legislators to talk about modifying the law.
Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey wants a law in place by July 4 to allow the sheriff’s office to have the authority to stop fireworks war events, where people shoot the explosives at each other, just outside Columbia.
“I don’t care how we get there,” he said.
The wars had happened inside city limits until organizers moved them this year to Demaret Drive and other locations outside the city limits after Columbia police pledged to crack down on fireworks use.
At the beginning of the meeting, a video of a Columbia fireworks war was shown to let lawmakers know what happens and the dangers.
“It’s crazy out there,” Carey said.
A 13-year-old boy, two sheriff deputies and one Boone County firefighter were hit by fireworks this year on Demaret Drive. The county has received complaints of similar activity happening in other parts of the county.
The county requested that legislators change the state statute regulating or fireworks to include any county with more than 150,000 residents, but fewer than 200,000 people.
State Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, saw two potential roadblocks he might face with other senators when pushing for this change. Some might feel big government is interfering with people’s rights. Rowden also said legislators will realize people participating in fireworks wars will just go to a neighboring county where it is allowed.
Rep. Chuck Bayse, R-Rocheport, said amending the fireworks statute is something he will push for when the Missouri legislative convenes in January, but like Rowden thinks fireworks war participants will go to a nearby county where it would be allowed.
Carey said the county, if the law were to be modified, would not consider an outright ban on fireworks and would instead focus on people using them in an unsafe matter.
“We only enforce state law,” Carey said. “This would give us a bite to go along with the bark.”
Atwill said Carey needs more authority than he has right now.
“What we want to do is provide safety for (everyone),” Atwill said. “It’s a community need.”
John Walker, a lawyer for fireworks dealer Spirit of 76, said he is worried about how the changing of the law could affect the business.
Walker will call the Washington D.C. office it gets its fireworks from to see what other communities are doing to prevent similar activity.
Thompson said something has to be done.
“The unintended consequences are huge,” she said.
By Michael Maresh | Columbia Tribune