During the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly, lawmakers finally legalized fireworks. Not sparklers, which had long been allowed in Georgia, but legitimate fireworks. Bottle rockets, mortars, and other fun explosives would finally be sold and taxed in Georgia, ending necessary pilgrimages into neighboring states to buy fireworks. What thrilled many Georgians who enjoy risking their fingers, faces, and other body parts to lit fireworks on Independence Day and New Years upset Georgians across the state, who didn’t welcome the new law with open ears or eyes.
Since every single Georgian obeyed the previous ban on fireworks and never once launched a bottle rocket, lit a firecracker, or watched a mortar light up the night sky, many were shocked, outraged, and very upset by the noise caused by fireworks on July 4th–along with the days immediately before and after America’s birthday. Calls were launched to strongly regulate–or ban–fireworks, because dogs, children, and the sensitive ears of adults were hurt by this new, foreign sound.
In response, State Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, has filed the first–although certainly not the last–fireworks related bill for the upcoming 2016 session. Waites’ bill would prohibit fireworks demonstrations after 10 p.m. on holidays, including New Years. Here’s the thing, the ball drops at midnight, not 9 p.m., meaning most folks don’t light fireworks until 12:01 a.m. Waites told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution she received numerous complaints about fireworks around July 4th, as Georgians celebrated their newfound legal right to blow things up. It was a nuisance to be sure, but as Georgians grow increasingly accustomed to legal fireworks, something tells me fewer folks will light them off at 3 a.m., rendering Rep. Waites’ bill a bit overzealous.
Look, I’m not exactly a “nanny state” ranting libertarian, but asking Georgians to cease use of fireworks at 10 p.m. on New Years Eve is asinine, at best. Assuming Rep. Waites’ bill sees passage and is signed into law, will police throughout the state enforce the law and cite any and all Georgians using fireworks after 10 p.m.? We’re talking about a state who barely enforced a full ban on fireworks for years. Throughout my neighborhood, residents enjoy lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Years and have for years, without anyone from the local police department asking them to stop, or issuing a citation. On New Years, they generally light them off for roughly an hour–which yes, is quite late for those not staying up late on New Years–and on the Fourth of July, it’s rare I hear a firework pop after 11 p.m.
Yes, this isn’t indicative of how it is for communities throughout the state, and perhaps the law allowing fireworks was a little loose, but strong regulations seem unlikely to do anything in a state that long allowed fireworks without actually legalizing them.
I applaud Rep. Waites for listening to the concerns of her constituents and doing something about it. That’s what our representatives are supposed to do, and she deserves plaudits for doing her job. However, it seems unlikely that if passed, Georgians will abide by the changes, and it seems likely fireworks will continue to pop well after midnight on New Years and throughout the evening on the Fourth of July.
When we legalize a vice–and fireworks most certainly qualify as such–there are obviously unforeseen risks that will appear once a law’s firmly in place. We’re seeing that with the fireworks, but you cannot put the genie back in the bottle now that it’s out. Georgia long missed out on valuable tax dollars as residents took part in those pilgrimages to neighboring states, and finally decided it was time to enjoy a piece of the pie. The additional revenue and the ability to buy fireworks locally makes it almost impossible to end the sale of fireworks, and unfortunately, Georgians in opposition to the pops, booms, and bangs on days like New Years and the Fourth of July might want to invest in noise canceling headphones, earplugs, or soundproof their homes, at least for a few short hours every year.
With that said, Happy New Year and if you’re lighting fireworks tonight, be safe, don’t light them if you’re drunk, and be respectful of your neighbors, even if the state gave you the right to launch small explosives into the night sky.