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Sunday, Apr 23, 2017

Douse Florida fireworks bill

It’s a pretty safe bet somebody will be injured in the coming days by mishandling fireworks. Pets will be terrified and more than a few firefighters and police officers will be dispatched to deal with the aftermath of illegal fireworks being discharged in neighborhoods.

Twice a year, on July 4 and New Year’s Eve, communities across the state are subjected to the repeated bursts of illegal fireworks that are sold and discharged because of a farcical law that functions more as a loophole than deterrent.

Ending this charade is long overdue. The state should toughen the laws that make it illegal to sell fireworks that fly through the air or explode, while keeping the exception for the sparkler devices currently allowed.

But that’s not likely to happen this year. In fact, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, would do just the opposite if it were to pass.

Gaetz wants to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks currently banned by state law for recreational use. He says the law pushes buyers into neighboring states, where the purchases are legal. Those buyers then drive back across the Florida line and discharge the fireworks.

That’s a weak argument for legalizing an activity deserving of an outright ban for safety and nuisance reasons. Instead, the sales occur in Florida with impunity because of a giant loophole.

Under the law, fireworks can be sold to farms and fish hatcheries to scare off birds. That exemption is abused by sellers and buyers who sign a waiver promising the fireworks will be used for those sanctioned purposes. The law is seldom enforced, resulting in the cacophony outside your window twice a year along with burns and accidental fires.

There’s a cost associated with allowing the activity that cancels out the economic argument Gaetz is making. As the Tribune’s James L. Rosica reports, fireworks were involved in an estimated 8,700 injuries treated in emergency rooms across the country in 2012, many of them to children. By allowing the loophole and looking the other way, the state gives cover to irresponsible gun owners who shoot celebratory bullets into the air, threatening innocent lives miles away.

No doubt, people who are determined will get their hands on illegal fireworks during the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean the state should sanction the activity.

State lawmakers should douse Gaetz’s bill in a bucket of water, and instead tighten current law.