Marc Kovac - Fireworks are illegal

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COLUMBUS -- It started a few weeks ago in my neighborhood with various whistles and pops and cracks.

I've never purchased any myself, but bottle rockets must be easy to come by, given their seeming abundance around Independence Day in every community where I've lived.

When I was a kid spending summers at my grandfather's house in northwestern Indiana, we'd load up on fireworks (though not bottle rockets) and put on driveway displays to celebrate our nation's birth. We purchased only the stuff that was legal, and we were careful not to burn or otherwise destroy the body parts of ourselves and others.

I have not lived in any other state where such fireworks were legal, but I've been treated to unwanted explosions and light shows with little sign of legal entanglement for those lighting the fuses.

Law-abiding folks like myself listen to the sounds of the season and ask ourselves why blatant illegal activity is allowed to occur without much in the way of enforcement.

I'm not really blaming the police.

It's probably very difficult to track down a bunch of teen and pre-teen boys running through backyards while blasting each other with contraband.

There are bigger fish to fry in the world of law enforcement. As long as people aren't purposefully injuring others or causing property damage, illegal fireworks displays likely aren't going to be near the top of officers' priority lists.

I don't doubt if a police car happened by at the same time someone launched a spark shower that there would be a warning or citation issued. I also don't doubt that officers will quickly confiscate any illegal fireworks they find. But lets be realistic: Our state fireworks ban is ineffective, and users are paying little attention to what Ohio Revised Code has to say about the issue.

Which brings us to one day last week, when the state fire marshal's office and Prevent Blindness Ohio played host to their annual press conference, warning Ohioans about the dangers of using any kind of fireworks.

They had pictures of bloody and punctured eyes struck by bottle rockets. They shared horror stories of people losing body parts. They pleaded with the public to refrain from sparklers and snaps and smoke bombs and snakes -- all legal novelties that account for thousands of injuries nationally each year.

In fact, upward of 11,000 emergency room visits last year were prompted by fireworks. More than half of those occurred within a month of July 4.

Sherry Williams, president and chief executive officer of Prevent Blindness' Ohio affiliate, was blunt in her assessment:

"Fireworks are extremely dangerous. Do not purchase, use or store fireworks or sparklers of any type. Protect yourself, your family and your friends by avoiding fireworks and sparklers. Attend only authorized public displays conducted by licensed operators, but be aware even professional displays can be dangerous and you need to heed safety guidelines."

These warnings don't appear to be having much of an impact, judging by the sights and sounds in neighborhoods like mine. It's fun until someone puts an eye out.

Maybe that's the only really effective deterrent.

(Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.)

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