Fireworks ban doesn’t deter Minnesotans

STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) Washington County Sheriff Jim Frank has seen plenty of the sorts of injuries that prompted Minnesota’s ban on fireworks.
“In my years as a police officer, there have been a number of cases every year where I witnessed someone losing fingers or their hand because of fireworks,” he said.
For the past 15 years, Minnesota law has prohibited the sale, possession and use of any fireworks. Only cities, fair associations, amusement parks and civic organizations can purchase fireworks in Minnesota.
But people who want to experience the rockets’ red glare on the Fourth of July can simply cross the border into Wisconsin, North Dakota, or South Dakota — where some fireworks are legal — to stock up on contraband Roman candles and bottle rockets.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 12,000 Americans are injured by fireworks each year. One out of five of those injuries is to an eye.
In Minnesota, 234 injuries were reported from illegal fireworks from 1989 to 1994, according to a Minnesota State Fire Marshal survey of hospital emergency rooms. Forty-three percent of the victims were 10 to 19 years old.
Dr. Edwin Ryan, an eye specialist who has practiced medicine in several other states, said Minnesota has one of the most effective laws on fireworks.
“I’ve seen a lot more serious eye injuries in other states than here,” he said. “The total ban of fireworks contributed to that.”
Minnesotans can buy fireworks in Wisconsin with a valid out-of-state driver’s license. Wisconsin residents must have a special permit from their city government to purchase fireworks. Even so, they are prohibited from having almost anything except sparklers.
North and South Dakota merchants require only a valid driver’s license from out-of-state residents who want to buy fireworks.
So what’s stopping people from crossing the border and purchasing fireworks?
“Nothing,” said Carol Hamre, store manager of Cornellier Fireworks in Hudson, Wis. “There really needs to be a uniform fireworks policy for all states, so they can help each other out.”
Sting operations have been used to back up the Minnesota ban.
In Wisconsin, St. Croix County sheriff’s deputies participated in one sting operation because they wanted to help solve Minnesota’s fireworks problem, said Deputy Max Ihrke. They also wanted to highlight shortcomings in Minnesota’s laws.
Scott Morris, owner of Starr Fireworks in Grand Forks, N.D., said a sting operation there amounted to entrapment.
“It was very unfair, there was really no way for the police to know where and when people were going to light up their fireworks,” he said.
Hamre said the Wisconsin sting added to paranoia among Minnesota customers but it has not deterred people from buying fireworks.
“More than half of my customers are Minnesota residents,” she said.