TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

For years, I’ve watched our local police departments warn the public about the penalties that attach to the illegal use of fireworks. An offense has been clearly defined. A specific penalty has been set (subject to a judge’s discretion). And then … we have a law that is not a law!

“A law that is not a law” is one that is on the books but is not enforced by police and is ignored by the public.

Worse yet are the poppycock explanations we hear every year. Politicians don’t seek enforcement because “it’s not their job — that’s the job of the cop shop.” Then the cop shop tells us that fireworks are on the “low end “of their enforcement.

Low end, my rump. The actual reason violations are ignored is because they don’t generally enforce the existing fireworks law.

Don’t get me wrong, I like fireworks as much as anyone, with the exception of the explosive ones — those that blow up and disfigure your face, blow your fingers off, blind passers-by and so on. You get the idea.

So let’s see what happens, and to whom, when the fireworks (noise) ordinances aren’t enforced. People are killed or maimed or kill and maim others, with personal injury lawyers taking care of business. Fireworks can burn down houses, damage entertainment venues such as nightclubs, frighten children, cause brush fires and terrify pets and wildlife.

Noise from fireworks can cause distress in adults, too, especially those that sound like gunfire. The deafening noise can also cause tinnitus and deafness or aggravate nervous conditions. People who suffer from asthma may experience discomfort. Epileptics can experience seizures following fireworks displays.

And consider veterans or anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many things aggravate PTSD, but fireworks are at the top of the list. Not only those who’ve been on a battlefield suffer from this condition. Police and emergency personnel do, too, as well as individuals who’ve gone through personal trauma. One loud bang can bring back horrible memories.

Every kind of pet — dogs, cats, birds, hamsters — has a terrible time coping with the explosions. Imagine the distress of their counterparts living in the wild.

There are plenty of reasons for citizens to call the police because of fireworks violations. Most don’t share all the reasons that they called. Nor should they have to.

Every fireworks complaint ought to be treated as a call from someone who needs help. It needs to be investigated. Drive-bys in police cars don’t do a thing. The moment the car is out of sight, the explosions continue. Casual enforcement — or none at all — is how it has always been. But now we have more reasons than ever to require that each call be treated seriously.

If some officers were given an overtime option around the Fourth of July, and if they ticketed the violators every time they saw an incident, you can bet the farm that the number of scofflaws would shrink the next year. If you kept up regular enforcement up for a few years, chances are good that the need for extra enforcement would decrease in a few years.

A bonus: The fines violators were assessed would pay for the stepped-up enforcement. The revenue would go into the city tills, and the result would benefit the entire city.

Wouldn’t it be nice if those who love to set off their fireworks would think about others who might be impacted? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all thought about those most in need instead of only ourselves? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a law … one that was actually enforced?

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone considered the rights and needs of their neighbors? Damn straight, it would. Amen.

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Tom Davies

Judge Tom Davies wielded the gavel in Fargo's Municipal Court for nearly 40 years, the longest term of any elected official in the city's history, until health problems forced his retirement in 2012. Born in Grand Forks, the UND business and law graduate has lived in Fargo since 1956, when his father, Ronald Davies, was appointed a federal judge. The outspoken, irreverent jurist remains an insatiable consumer of news, sharing his observations in Moorhead's weekly newspaper, The Extra … and now here on the Fish blog. As a child, Davies delivered the Grand Forks Herald and sold them on the street corner.

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