In the Pipeline: Ban fireworks? Don't punish law-abiding majority

So how was your Fourth of July?

For most of us, it was a classic Huntington Beach holiday. Tens of thousands of beachgoers packed the sand, cooked out, enjoyed the parade and of course gathered around many bonfires into the night.

But there was a lot of discussion the next day about the number of illegal fireworks that were heard and felt around the city. Also, some people I know were trying to draw a connection between the newly legal "safe and sane" fireworks and the heavy-duty mortars that rocked many neighborhoods.

For the record, just like last year, my family enjoyed a large box of fireworks that were sold legally in Huntington Beach and benefited one of the nonprofits chosen as vendors. I know there were concerns by some, including law enforcement, that legalizing "safe and sane" fireworks would lead to more use of illegal fireworks. But I just don't see the connection.

Did I notice a lot of booming and thunder that night? Absolutely. But I noticed that in the years before the sale of legal fireworks was permitted. And not just in Huntington Beach. Illegal fireworks burst, blare and flare all across Orange County and the rest of California.

Did it seem particularly worse this year? To me, not really. Those whose opinions I trust told me things were far worse this year in their neighborhoods, and I take those people at their word. I saw some of the posted videos and, yes, it was absurd.

However, I still don't see the connection between the legal and illegal fireworks. "Safe and sane" fireworks are barely fireworks at all. There are no explosives or projectiles, merely colorful, sparkling fountains of light that occasionally hiss and pop a bit. Certainly nothing, as long as a responsible adult is in charge, should prompt any serious concerns.

We are talking about small driveway setups that provide a nice bit of flashy entertainment, especially for children. As far as any residual damage, in our neighborhood at least, I didn't see a speck of paper on the ground the next morning. People were responsible and all seemed to have a good time.

Yet some people want to again ban "safe and sane" fireworks on the premise that the prohibition will help control the heavier artillery. But why punish the thousands of people who play by the rules and enjoy the simple pleasure of a small and colorful light show that, whether people like it or not, has become a firm part of American tradition?

If people are concerned about the heavier illegal fireworks, why not work on solving that problem specifically rather than letting it serve as an excuse to get rid of everything?

This is not a Huntington Beach problem. This is a California problem. What are the solutions? What if two weeks before the Fourth each year, crossings at the border with Nevada (where evidently many of the illegal fireworks originate) became search points? Make a

concerted effort to stop interstate transport. Every single car gets searched.

And considering that fireworks will still make it through, how about a first-time $1,000 fine for those caught using them? How about a second-time $5,000 fine?

You say there may not be enough police to go around and write the tickets? Fine. Deputize the locals and empower them on that one day to write tickets if they can provide video evidence of people abusing the system. And give those deputies half the money reaped from the fines.

I've always thought the best way to remedy all of the dogs in the wetlands is to establish a $1,000 fine. My hunch is the problem would go away almost overnight, and if it didn't, enough money would be generated to create actual patrols to enforce the law.

Finally, let the people decide whether or not "safe and sane" fireworks should be legal.

This flap reminds me a bit of the current battle over fire pits. Most people who use them obey the laws and do not burn anything that could be considered toxic. But some do, and they should not be allowed to get away with it. Implement and enforce stiff fines and I believe that problem will all but go away.

Most of us are sick and tired of the notion that you take things away from the majority because of the bad behavior of a small minority. I always loathed that premise in grade school and find it even more obnoxious as an adult.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Huntington Beach should allow "safe and sane" fireworks next year? Do you think a public vote should be held? Do you think a gateway connection exists between legal and illegal fireworks?

Reminder: Friday is the meeting at which the Air Quality Management District will decide the fate of the fire pits. It is important to have a strong representation from Huntington Beach so that the AQMD board understands and appreciates the gravity of this issue. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. at 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar. It is a very historic day for Southern California, especially for Huntington Beach, and I hope you can attend.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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