A plan to legalize the sale and use of fireworks in Shawnee has fizzled out — for now, at least.
The City Council on Tuesday agreed on a voice vote to retain the city’s prohibition against consumer fireworks that has been in place for more than 50 years. But the council did ask city staff to use this fall’s citizen survey to poll residents on whether they would like to change that.
“There’s obviously a lot of questions,” said Councilman Jim Neighbor. “I think that’s one thing that we could get the population to chip in with it and go from there with what they say.”
Several cities on the Missouri side of the metro area allow firework sales and use, relatively few on the Kansas side do, despite Kansas state statutes already limiting firework sales to between June 27 and July 5.
In fact, De Soto and Spring Hill are the only municipalities in Johnson County that allow them, said Caitlin Gard, assistant to the Shawnee public works director. Except for a few months in 1973, Shawnee has banned at least some fireworks since 1961 and all fireworks since 1972.
Gard said the city co-sponsored a professional fireworks display with the city of Lenexa from 2001 to 2008, when the display was discontinued because of budget constraints.
She added that enforcement of the firework laws is difficult, with Shawnee police issuing 45 citations and confiscating 38 pounds of fireworks over the last two and a half years.
Councilman Mike Kemmling first raised the idea of lifting the restrictions. He acknowledged that fireworks can injure users, create noise problems and damage property, but he framed the issue in terms of limited government and noted this would be a way to draw additional consumers and visitors to Shawnee.
“Ultimately, I believe in the freedom of the individual to decide what they think is responsible to do, and should they choose to do something irresponsible there’s still going to be consequences for them,” Kemmling said.
Councilman Eric Jenkins agreed, saying that while he understood many of the concerns, it’s especially problematic to restrict people’s activities on Independence Day.
“Those freedoms are pretty darned important to me, the freedom to vote and the freedom to not be overly restricted by your government,” Jenkins said.
Other council members, however, said there’s a tradeoff for ensuring residents are living in a safe community.
“There’s always inherent risk in anything, but with fireworks I can ignite something that can shoot 100 yards across a field and injure somebody that was just an innocent bystander and wasn’t participating, and he suffers so I can enjoy this personal freedom,” said Councilman Jeff Vaught.