COLUMBIA — As East Campus resident Sarah Smith walked to the front of the Columbia City Council chambers, she held up a plastic bag filled to the brim with the chalky gray residue of discharged fireworks.
"This is only a third of what I picked up the other afternoon," Smith said. "When I do flower gardening, I literally pull hundreds of these out of my gardens."
Smith was one of more than a dozen people to speak out Monday night about a proposed ordinance prohibiting the possession of fireworks within city limits, which the City Council narrowly approved 4-3 later in the evening. The ordinance goes into effect immediately.
The council also voted 5-2 to exclude sparklers from the fireworks regulations in the city code, an amendment introduced during the meeting by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.
Capt. Brian Richenberger, representing the Columbia Police Department, said the police had received 4,500 fireworks-related calls since 2007 but, in comparison, had made only 58 arrests. He said officers rarely find people in the act of setting off fireworks and that made the city code difficult to enforce.
Bob Gerau, owner of Bob's Fireworks, condemned the ordinance. He said Missouri permitted the sale and discharge of fireworks under certain conditions and said five other states were adopting a more firework-friendly approach.
"I personally shot fireworks for 65 years," Gerau said. "I look at this ordinance, and I say, 'My God, name me another city that has an ordinance like this.'"
MU sophomore Jeremy Brant agreed, arguing that simply having fireworks in one's vehicle should not be an issue.
"Possession is not a means of arrest," Brant said. "I urge you all to vote no."
The amendments received plenty of support, however, from residents in the East Campus neighborhood, who said the sound of exploding fireworks often kept them up at unwelcome hours of the night.
Bonnie Bourne said she thinks the proposed amendments would give the police more tools to crack down on violators, adding that the lack of sleep has affected her mood and productivity.
"I'm not proud of what happens in our neighborhood at night," she said.
Mayor Bob McDavid, Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley and Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl provided the three dissenting votes against the possession ordinance. McDavid and Dudley were particularly concerned about the ordinance's potential to affect people simply passing through the city.
"I don’t think it’ll change behavior," McDavid added. "College students are college students."
Gerau said he had expected the ordinance to pass but insisted he wasn't overly concerned about the police pulling over his fireworks stand customers.
"They've got bigger fish to fry," he said.
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