In Our View: Fireworks Ban Won’t Work

There are other, better ways to address the Fourth of July dilemma



To their credit — and we’re certain many readers will disagree with this contention — Vancouver city councilors have made meaningful steps in recent years toward reducing the annual fireworks problem during days leading up to and including the Fourth of July. Those steps are explained below. And several more steps also could be taken to further alleviate the problem. The council is also commended for holding its attention on one of the city’s most frequently discussed, fiercely divisive and combustible issues. Many councilors say they receive more advice and complaints on both sides of this issue than just about any other topic.But the fireworks ban that the Vancouver City Council is considering is the wrong approach for several reasons.

First, Vancouver contains less than 40 percent of the population in Clark County, which includes eight cities and a large unincorporated area. Many unincorporated areas such as Salmon Creek, Hazel Dell and Orchards abut Vancouver city limits. Even if Vancouver banned all but “safe and sane” fireworks as is being considered, it would be unreasonable to expect a core of silence could exist within the greater community.

Second, enforcement of any fireworks ban would be difficult because of the multiple jurisdictions connected to the city.

Third, many people don’t even know whether they live inside or outside Vancouver city limits. A 2005 survey of 300 residents in areas being considered at the time for annexation showed that 28 percent of the respondents mistakenly believed they already lived inside Vancouver’s city limits. Such confusion would make enforcement of a fireworks ban even more challenging.

Fourth, the strategy of incrementally narrowing the “window” for legal sales and use of fireworks is working. Better that approach than attempting a ban on fireworks. There was a time in Vancouver when you could detonate fireworks on seven days or evenings plus New Year’s Eve. Wisely, elected officials banned fireworks on New Year’s Eve in 1998 (by the county) and in 2003 (by Vancouver). Six years later, Vancouver properly banned fireworks on July 5, and the county did the same a year later.

Further restrictions were correctly implemented when Vancouver began narrowing the window of fireworks sales and use. It’s now down to just four days of fireworks in Vancouver (July 1-4).

Both sides of this debate make valid arguments. Yes, fireworks constitute an important part of the annual patriotic celebration for many people. And yes, the noise becomes intolerable for many other people. A third faction — charitable fundraisers — insists that fireworks should be kept legal to support worthy causes, including the huge Independence Day at Fort Vancouver celebration.

Further narrowing the window of legal sales and use of fireworks might be a solution worth pursuing. Enforcement efforts also could be increased. But attempting to create a fireworks-free zone in a fireworks-friendly county — especially one that’s laced with unclear jurisdictional lines — is not a wise approach.