Residents sticking with fireworks displays

By Justin Reedy

Gloria Powell could drive to a neighboring state to buy fireworks for Independence Day, but that's too much trouble for the College Park resident.

"I think it's always best to go somewhere and have a professional do it," she said. "Just sit back and enjoy it."

Powell will be one of many Georgia residents who won't be breaking the law on the Fourth of July this year by buying fireworks outside of Georgia and bringing them home to celebrate the holiday.

Fireworks of all sorts n including firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers n are illegal to sell or use in Georgia, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Though authorities will be on the lookout for illegal fireworks use on Friday, police say most offenders will just get a slap on the wrist.

Many first offenders they catch will just get a stern warning and have their fireworks taken away, according to Clayton County Police Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Turner. But if someone is using fireworks in a way that could harm people or property, or if it's no longer their first offense, they could have charges filed against them.

Though some local residents will undoubtedly buy fireworks in neighboring Alabama, Florida or South Carolina and bring them back to Georgia for the holiday, legislators say that's no reason to legalize fireworks here.

"We had a bill a few years ago to make them legal, and the arguments sounded great n ?Why can't our residents enjoy them when other states around us sell them,'" said state Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton. "But firefighters, paramedics and emergency room doctors came up to the capitol and talked about how dangerous they are. It was just awful, some of the things they had to respond to."

"If you don't know what you're doing, they can be dangerous," added state Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, who also opposed the bill that would have allowed the limited sale of some fireworks.

About 7,000 Georgia residents are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for fireworks related injuries, according to state Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine. Many of those incidents involve children, and most occur on and around the July 4 holiday. The devices can also cause property damage from structural fires and wildfires, which can cause millions of dollars in damage.

"A display of fireworks is a traditional part of the Fourth of July, but please enjoy them at a professional show handled by licensed experts n don't risk injury to yourself or your family," Oxendine said.

Henry County resident Sianiah Baysah is taking that advice and heading for Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead for its display Friday night. She won't handle firecrackers and bottle rockets herself, but she can understand why responsible people would like the right to purchase fireworks.

"It's a good idea to make them illegal, because some people don't know how to use them right," Baysah said. "But people who know how to use them safely are suffering. I'm kind of torn on that issue."