Ludington Fireworks Ban Not Needed if We Enforce the Laws on the Books

What the Fireworks Ban Will Do

Last night at the August 11, 2014 Ludington City Council meeting I led off with and spent a couple of minutes giving some of my perspective on the proposed Fireworks ban in Ludington during the public comment period. 

"First off, let me strongly encourage the city council to rethink their wording of ordinance 290-14, the fireworks ordinance.  It amends section 22-98 of the city code by saying:  "No person shall at any time ignite, discharge, or use consumer fireworks within the city except on days before, on or after a national holiday".   It provides the city council the ability to waive that restriction for individuals or groups for special events. 

In its current form, you could be fined for $500 per offense for having your kids light up sparklers on July 2.  Consumer fireworks include sparklers, smoke balls, firecrackers, fountains, and even snap n pops. 

It  gives the incredible power to the council to tell our citizens when they can use otherwise legal fireworks, and the ordinance as written liberally interprets state law into a fascist local policy.  MCL 28.457 (amended in June 2013), section 2 says that "A local unit of government may enact an ordinance regulating the ignition, discharge, and use of consumer fireworks, including, but not limited to, an ordinance prescribing the hours of the day or night during which a person may ignite, discharge, or use consumer fireworks."  

It does not say, imply, or infer that a local unit can ban them for all the day, every day, except for the day before, on, or after a national holiday.  Obviously, if we are to believe the anecdotes supplied to us by some citizens that fireworks are being used between the hours of 1 and 8 AM by some other citizens, and there is little to dispute that is the case, then the ordinance as currently written is sufficient to address that. 

Taking the right to use legal consumer fireworks away from the public at large, while being able to dictate what individuals or groups can use them-- well, isn't that synonymous with the dictatorial behavior by the king of England that led to independence day in the first place, the reason we celebrate the fourth of July.  This city council is showing by this example how prone to tyranny it actually is."

City Attorney George Saylor III offered a correction at the end of the meeting to say that the ban would not include sparklers, and using the definition of "consumer fireworks" found in the Ludington City Code, he seems to be right.  I had not noticed that an ordinance passed late last year had that definition therein, and for my own research had relied on the Federal definition as explained in this link at the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Bureau site.  The ATF and federal laws split fireworks into two categories: display fireworks and consumer fireworks, where the latter would basically consist of any fireworks that you could buy at most retailers around the Fourth of July-- hence the word consumer

This seems to be the standard definition for consumer fireworks, where what Ludington calls 'low impact fireworks' would be a subset.  Hence, the confusion about sparklers.  The city says Low-impact fireworks means ground and handheld sparkling devices as that phrase is defined under APA standard 87-1, 3.1, to, and 3.5.

Looking at APA to we find that the following devices are immune from the proposed ban:  cylindrical fountain, cone fountain, illuminating torch, wheel, ground spinner, flitter sparkler, toy smoke devices (5 g.+ of pyrotechnic material), and wire sparklers.   APA 3.5 is for multiple tube devices which is effectively a group of cylindrical fountains put together.

According to APA guidelines, these novelties may well become illegal to set off in Ludington for over 90% of the year: party poppers (3.2.1), snappers (3.2.2), small toy smoke devices (3.2.3), snakes (3.2.4), wire sparklers (3.2.5).  As stated in the link "these (novelties) must still comply with all labeling requirements of CPSC applicable to consumer fireworks devices". 

Hence, using Ludington's "Consumer fireworks" definition, the soon-to-be-banned fireworks include these novelties that fall outside the definition of 'low impact fireworks'.  A good city attorney can thus rule that a sparkler is banned by the currently worded ordinance, City Attorney George Saylor, and earn up to $500 per for the general fund!

Fixing the Problem Without Draconian New Laws

Of course, the usual firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, aerial shells, aerial spinners, etc. that make the big noises fall within the proposed ban as well.  But is it really necessary to ban almost all fireworks and novelty items to fix the problem as noted by many of our residents?

One has to commiserate with the ones who say they are being woke up in the middle of the night by inconsiderate neighbors shooting bottle rockets, that their pets are suffering great distress over the loud retorts, that veterans are having to move away from the constant barrage of firecrackers during the summer, etc.  But what is the underlying cause of these problems?  Is it the visual effect of the fireworks?  Nope, it is the sound of these fireworks and to a lesser extent the time these sounds go off.

So the distilled problem is effectively the noise of these fireworks and how they disturb the peace.  But Ludington already has a couple of noise ordinances on the books, and also defines what it is to disturb the peace, and gives set fines to violating those laws already.  Why create a law that punishes the vast majority of consumer fireworks users who responsibly operate their fireworks at reasonable times, with consideration for their neighbors?  Why restrict everyone's rights further when the law already presents a remedy to go after the rude folks that irresponsibly disturb the peace with loud noises? 

Last year, Scottville created an ordinance that banned consumer fireworks (without defining what they were) and Ludington amended their ordinance to ban fireworks between 10 PM and 10 AM.  This year, the complaints filtered into the July 14 council meeting saying that the law was not being complied with at 3:15 into it by Karen Nielsen, when she says her neighbors shoot out these noisy rockets 4 to 5 hours a night and "completely ignore the limitations the city council set". 


So is this a problem where more laws will somehow prevent what appears to be a problem on the enforcement end?   Making laws upon laws that only punish responsible fireworks users is precisely why this issue mirrors the same problems with making more rules going against responsible firearms users with the intent to scare criminals already using guns unlawfully.  The object is not creating more laws to further restrict constitutionally protected behaviors, but to enforce the laws existent to get the 'bad guys'.

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No new laws are needed - enforce the ones you already have. Is the counselors to stupid to see that?

I think the police should do their job and enforce what's on the books now. I'd call it disturbing the piece. Just last week someone was sending off fireworks for a quite awhile, I actually went outside to see if it was thundering. 4th of july is one thing but this was the first week in august..

The laws are there already, which do not intrude very much on the people's right to pursue their happiness if viewing pyrotechnics brings them joy. 

Fireworks are not only used for the Fourth of July and some other national holidays, but for weddings, Bastille Day (July 14) celebrations across the world, religious events like Bar Mitzvahs (see video below), etc.  People use fireworks for more than just celebrating July Fourth or New Year's Day.  It's kind of like that town banning dancing on the movie Footloose-- is this next for Ludington when someone notices people dancing to loud music?


The Ludington paper reports :  "Tom Rotta spoke against the change and said the council should rethink the wording.  He said it would allow the council to waive the ban for certain organizations and events and said it could mean $500 fines for children with sparklers."  And later, "George Saylor, from the law firm that represents Ludington, also informed the council that sparklers are not considered fireworks by the ordinance."

To be precise, George said that sparklers are not consumer fireworks by the Ludington law and would not be banned within the city limits.  This is open to interpretation as 'novelty' sparklers (APA 3.2.5) would still be considered consumer fireworks that are not 'low impact fireworks' by Ludington's definition.  Kevin Braciszeski also rewords what I said to try to make my position sound foolish, but proves only that he's a lousy journalist incapable of objective reporting.

When the council has a reading of the new proposed ordinance , if the wording is wrong and they change what was read/wrote, do they need to do it over so the public hears it the way it's going to be? They made a big BOO BOO in the wording and I'm sure the wording will change in a big way.

The current group of councilors have the same regard for the city charter and established city code, than most of our US congressmen have for the US Constitution.  In this case, I believe they have made their intention clear:  ban almost all fireworks for 335 1/4 days each year for responsible users and irresponsible users alike. 

Last fall, when they made the change to ban all firework use between 10 PM and 10 AM, I thought it was rather foolish and hypocritical, since the two occasions when the City uses fireworks (on July 4 and January 1) fall within that time.  Let's be frank, fireworks between 10 AM and 10 PM cannot be visually enjoyed because it is too light out, so it was a killjoy ordinance at the time.  I can see why Ms. Nielsen's neighbors have acted up as they have.

OH, I forgot to add that what the news paper said that fire works are band except for the three day window of national holidays { NATIONAL HOLIDAYS ? } there's 10 national holidays , that means we'll have 30 days of explosives going off legally???

The newspaper misprints things all the time, but they actually have it right, that is what the law says, we effectively have one month where we can light fireworks, including those special day-after Christmas, Easter, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day firework displays we all know, grew up with, and love:

It would seem to me that enforcing the noise ordinance would be a more effective way to solve the problem instead of banning fireworks year round. I'm also curious about the City over ruling a State law. The City should, if they feel it necessary, ban fireworks that create a loud "report". That would satisfy most people. I do have to agree with the people who find some of these fireworks to be extreme. Some of the louder ones sound like a canon exploding. Also, the way I read the ordinance is that non noisy fireworks are also banned.

Banning the use of legal fireworks that have little or no report really has very little purpose, so your observation about noise is the best yardstick to use if fireworks are to be banned for some time of the day.  That's why I personally believe the City's current ruling is fair enough, although I think the time period should be pushed back until eleven PM, or dismissed altogether with perhaps an addition of an extra subsection under "Disturbing the Peace" making it easier to enforce against 'rude' neighbors.  Visual effects cannot be appreciated in the middle of summer if it isn't dark. 

Asking neighbors politely to stop shooting off fireworks?  How novel, LOL. 

Frankly, when I hear Ms. Nielsen and others come before the council on this problem, I find myself asking the question:  "If you are unpleased with the police's response to your complaints when they have the laws to enforce this behind them already, why are you solely upset with the neighbors, and not more upset with the police response?"

Not that I'm complaining, but LPD has a reputation amongst the people I know of as not being very good problem solvers in situations akin to this.

It'll give the councilors the ability to relax until next year, when the same people (and perhaps more) will come forward and tell more horror stories about their neighbors still shooting fireworks and the LPD still doing squat about it. 

At which point, Chief Barnett may swear in a bunch of new police reserves from the aggrieved parties in order to control the problem.  Nothing better to restore order than having an illegitimate cop or two next door ready to pull their city-issued gun on violators.


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