Columbia's fireworks ordinance sparks controversy

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 4, 2013
Area residents shop for fireworks on Tuesday at Bob's Fireworks. Bob Gerau, who co-owns the business with his son, is in his 48th year of selling fireworks.

COLUMBIA — You can buy a variety pack of fireworks at Sam's Club for $21.98. But as soon as you step outside, you're violating Section 16-234 of the city's code of ordinances.

You probably won't be targeted by the police, though.

When the ordinance was discussed at a Columbia City Council meeting in October, Capt. Brian Richenberger of the Columbia Police Department said police did not plan to search people's houses or cars.

"You can rest easy that we're not going to come after you," Richenberger said. "If you're minding your own business and haven't brought to our attention that you're violating this ordinance, then you have nothing to worry about."

The ordinance, states that possession of fireworks within city limits is a misdemeanor, with the exception of sparklers. The previous law only prohibited residents from setting off explosives

Selling fireworks within city limits also is a misdemeanor, unless the fireworks are in a wholesale lot and being sold by a person with a wholesale license to do business in the city.

Sam's Club and similar membership-based retailers qualify as wholesalers. Firework sellers also can operate under a permit issued by the city manager.

Bob's Fireworks stores are in Boone County, just outside of city limits. Bob Gerau, who is co-owner along with his son Tim, said the ban on possessing fireworks hasn't affected his business at all, but he finds it "un-American."

In his store's fireworks catalog, he published a "not wanted" poster for the four City Council members — Fred Schmidt, Michael Trapp, Barbara Hoppe and past Fifth Ward representative Helen Anthony — who voted for the new ordinance. The poster says they committed crimes against freedom.

"They need to rescind it," Gerau said of the ban.

Sgt. Joe Bernhard, Columbia police spokesman, however, said fireworks are a problem in the city.

Students living in East Campus who shot fireworks all year long might have been the source of the ban, Gerau said. Of the nine people who spoke in support of the ordinance at the Oct. 12 council meeting, six lived in the East Campus neighborhood.

But Gerau said that is only one neighborhood with a problem.

"It's overkill," Gerau said. "Underage students drink all over the city, but they wouldn't ban alcohol."

The police emphasize fireworks enforcement around this time of year.

The penalty for firework possession or discharging is decided by the Municipal Court judge after a cited person either pleads guilty or is found guilty in court after a trial.

Bernhard said the penalty is usually a fine.

Gerau said he is willing to pay anyone's fine if they are cited for possession.

"It's ridiculous," Gerau said. "Transport trucks go through city limits all the time carrying fireworks, but they are in violation of the law."

At the October council meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid explained that it would be possible for a police officer to sit near the city limits to see who might be driving into the city with fireworks. But Richenberger said the police had better things to do with their time.

Gerau mentioned that states such as Arizona and Minnesota are now legalizing fireworks.

"Legalizing fireworks in Columbia, even if shooting could only occur July 3, 4, 5 and New Year's Eve, would add tens of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue, plus additional revenue of licensing fees," Gerau said.

Bernhard said fireworks that are not set off in the right conditions with proper safety precautions can be fire hazards. According to a joint news release from the police and fire departments, 17,800 reported fires nationwide were fireworks-related and caused $32 million in damage in 2011.

Bernhard noted that children often are injured setting off fireworks. In 2011, U.S. emergency rooms treated 9,600 fireworks-related injuries, according to the news release.

"I believe a young man in Missouri already lost the fingers off of his hand this year," Bernhard said.

But Gerau said there are accidents that come along with everything.

"What isn't dangerous?" Gerau asked. "If you don't do anything considered dangerous, what kind of life do you live?"

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Richard Saunders July 3, 2013 | 10:50 a.m.

I just love it when government displays that it is nothing more than a PR con-game, where what matters is the shiny facade that passes for their integrity.

Meanwhile the CPD was too busy screwing up traffic on I-70 last night to care. But hey, nothing like having to slam on your brakes because everyone is cutting each other off in order to clear the right lane in order to protect these highwaymen/women. Because as we all know, obedience to a law that endangers everyone on the road is far more important than actually trying to act in a safe manner.

Is it really too much to ask for the tiniest bit of coherence from this mob?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 3, 2013 | 12:26 p.m.

When did Sam's Club start selling fireworks? I've been a member for years and have never seen them.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 3, 2013 | 1:03 p.m.

JimmyB: "...have never seen them."

They must be near the organic food section. That's why neither you nor I know where they are.......

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 4, 2013 | 5:11 a.m.

I'd never know that fireworks were illegal in Columbia. From pretty much all around, it's just bang-pop-whistle-boom all night (not that I really care all that much).

If they're not going to enforce an ordinance like this, why have one?


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 4, 2013 | 7:55 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

I've been wondering since moving here what it would be like on the 4th of July. So far it's more quiet than a library. The core city and most suburban cities have enforced bans on shooting off fireworks. Non-noise items such as "sparklers" and "worms" are exempted. The core city ban has been effect since the 1930s.

On the other hand, the core city and several suburban cities have professionally staged public fireworks displays. By agreement, some have displays the night of the 3rd while others do theirs on the night of the 4th. With a bit of commuting one can see at least four displays over two nights. That should satisfy anyone. :)

I wonder, aside from the noise, and the indigestion (from eating too many brauts), how many folks actually stop to think of the significance of the day.

(Report Comment)
Laurien Rose July 4, 2013 | 9:38 a.m.

Thank you everyone for your comments!

@Jimmy Bearfield Sam's Club actually keeps their fireworks right next to the front door! When I went there to verify that they sold fireworks, I had to ask an employee where they kept them because I couldn't find them either.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.