Metro-East News

Illinois lawmaker wants fireworks legalized; police say ban is generally ignored anyway

It’s illegal to buy or set off fireworks in Illinois, but you’d never know it from the evening sounds last week.

Illinois is one of four states that outlaw all fireworks, but residents generally drive across state lines and buy the fireworks there, setting them off at home.

Now, the Chicago Tribune reported, state Rep. Barbara Wheeler has proposed making fireworks legal. Wheeler argued that many people manage to use fireworks safely, and the state is losing tax revenue to other states by not allowing them in Illinois.

The bill would set a minimum age of 18 to possess fireworks and would require that they be at least 200 feet from structures, vehicles or people, among other restrictions.

Last year nearly 13,000 people were injured by fireworks and eight were killed, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It was the highest number since 2002, and the majority of those injured were teenage boys. Sparklers, which are legal in Illinois, were responsible for approximately 14 percent of the injuries, according to CPSC.

Last year was a record high for Illinois as well, with 349 injured including 16 dismemberments and amputations, according to the Chicago Tribune. While numbers are not yet available for this year, a 14-year-old boy suffered severe facial trauma and lost an eye last week and an Indiana man was killed by a tube mortar, according to the Tribune.

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department received about 25 calls specifically complaining about fireworks, according to Capt. Bruce Fleshren, but that wouldn’t include general “noise disturbance” calls, he said. However, no citations were issued.

“The majority of our callers want to remain anonymous because they do not want to ‘have problems’ with their neighbors who they are reporting,” Fleshren said. “Because of the distance and time for deputies to respond throughout the county for these calls, most of the time no one is still out when they arrive.”

Fleshren said if people are still present when deputies arrive, they are generally warned to stop shooting off fireworks and that they will be cited if deputies have to return.

Fleshren said he could not say whether it was worse this year than in previous years. “It certainly is one of the most ignored laws during the time around July 4 every year, that’s for sure,” he said.

Most other local law enforcement agencies received numerous calls regarding fireworks in defiance of the ban, though most departments did not have firm numbers yet. “I can tell you we certainly received our share of fireworks calls,” said Lt. Brett Boerm with the Collinsville Police Department.

Swansea police received 25 calls, with no citations given; police Chief Steve Johnson also said that most of the time, fireworks fans are gone by the time police arrive.

The city of Mascoutah increased manpower and patrols specifically for fireworks this year and warned the public in advance that the law would be enforced. It was not immediately known how many citations might have been issued.

In Peoria, an entire police shift was dedicated to enforcement of the fireworks ban, with more than 115 tickets written on July 3 and 4, according to the Peoria Journal Star. Approximately 17 officers and detectives were on the detail, including the police chief himself. Last year Peoria police received 183 fireworks complaint calls; this year they received 402.

The Pyrotechnic Use Act has been on the books since 1942 and can be punishable by a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald
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