We Shouldn’t Ban Sky Lanterns


On August 4, 2015, City Council will consider introducing an ordinance which will ban the sale and use of Sky Lanterns within the City of Sterling Heights.  Reducing or eliminating the use of Sky Lanterns is a good idea, but I believe this ordinance will be unenforceable and thus a bad law.

As has been documented in many places, Sky Lanterns, although beautiful and a sight to behold when released, represent a serious fire hazard owing to the vagaries of the wind and the possibility that they may come into contact with flammable materials on the ground before their fuel supply is exhausted.  There is no question they are dangerous.  However, an ordinance will not prevent their use.  At best, it might cut down somewhat on the frequency of their use, but at the cost of adding to the problem of an already overburdened Police Department on “fireworks nights.”

Consider:

  • Fireworks laws were never effective at preventing the sale and use of fireworks to and by the people who wanted them.  I have spent my entire life in the State of Michigan, and for most of those forty-seven years any firework that left the ground or went bang! was illegal.  Yet the air was reliably clouded with smoke and filled with the loud report of firecrackers every July 4th.  How could this be?  Simple: people could buy fireworks from out-of-state vendors, and the police were overwhelmed to the point they couldn’t enforce the law.  Effectively, the people overruled the ban.  There is no reason to expect this law would be any different.
  • The effectiveness of any law is dependent upon people understanding it and agreeing with it.  I recall one time about ten years ago being so upset by a distant neighbor’s use of fireworks after 11PM on a weekday night that I drove over to discuss it with him.  The guy was setting off some pretty powerful stuff, and it could be heard for hundreds of yards.  When I got there, he made an important point: how could these things be illegal when one could buy them in the parking lot of the grocery store?  The fact is, people will still be able to purchase Sky Lanterns after this law has passed.  They are readily available online, and surrounding communities that don’t enact a ban will still have them available for purchase.  People who want them will still be able to get them very easily, and with the recent legalization of fireworks in the state, will not understand why some are allowed and some aren’t.
  • This will be an unpopular law, regardless of the number of complaints the city receives about fireworks. We cannot expect that people will follow a law that is unpopular, unenforceable, and difficult to understand.  Regardless of the number of complaints about fireworks, they are wildly popular.  Realize there would be no complaints if there were not many, many people purchasing and using fireworks in celebration of certain holidays.  Therefore, it is not a huge leap of logic to conclude that a large number of people will not be happy with a law that once again restricts the use of fireworks.  When large groups of people are unhappy with a law, they ignore it.  And when large groups of people ignore a law, it becomes impossible to enforce.  The national 55MPH speed limit is now a distant memory, but when it was enacted in the 1970s it was terrifically unpopular.  Songs were written about how bad the law was.  People routinely ignored the limit, and this led to them ignoring speed limits in general.  Scofflaws were created in wholesale quantities by the 55MPH limit, and scofflaws don’t limit themselves to ignoring just one law.
  • The Police Department already cannot enforce the fireworks restrictions on the books.  In the words of City Manager Mark Vanderpool, it is extremely difficult for the police to enforce the restrictions that have already been enacted regarding fireworks.  Adding one more law to the pile will not improve the situation, it will worsen it.  Although it will technically add another enforcement angle the police can use to quell a loud, disruptive party, they already have plenty of tools to do so.  I predict that “Sky Lantern” calls will be assigned a very low priority, and will hardly ever result in actual enforcement.

The City Council, unfortunately, has only one tool that it can use to react to a problem: it can create an ordinance.  This tool has a great deal of power under the right circumstances, but is of limited utility under the wrong circumstances.  I believe the proposed ordinance is being brought up under fundamentally bad circumstances, and thus will be not only ineffective but also potentially bad news for a host of other ordinances.

The old saying that “when you only have a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail” comes to mind here.  City Council would be wise to carefully consider whether they should break out their hammer in this case.  I don’t think they should pass this ordinance.  Instead, there should be an extensive public education campaign to help people understand the dangers that Sky Lanterns pose, and hopefully with some time and effort we will be able to reduce their use organically.  If we were to devote significant resources to fire prevention education in Sterling Heights, I believe the needs of the Fire Department could be met without enacting new, more restrictive legislation.

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Posted on August 3, 2015, in Issues and views. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. If you ban sky lanterns then ban alcohol.It is the consumers responsibility to use them properly.There must be directions on the package.When alcohol leaves the store it is the consumers responsibility to consume it properly.Did a sky lantern ever cause a house fire this 4th of july?Alcohol just killed an innocent motorcyclist sitting at a traffic light on mound by the screamers ice cream shop.I have had my supporters tell me of their cars having burns on them from bottle rockets and fireworks paper.How many residents were treated for burns from fireworks?I don’t know how a sky lantern that is still burning comes down.It’s; like a hot air balloon. Put the flame out then the balloon will come down.Mr.Romano does not want any fireworks period.And as you stated Mr.Gariepy,no ordinance will stop people from using them.What a waste of time.

    • That’s exactly it though people don’t use things properly because they think that the drunk driver cause problems won’t ever be them or they won’t kill anyone. Just like with fireworks how they light them off whenever they feel like including in the street. You bring up the example of screamers but forget about the innocent people trying to go in to work to try to make an honest living? Representative Yanez at least is trying to make things right for all residents with the bill he’s trying to pass prior to the fireworks bill passing people were not having to suffer thru year round fireworks that. Or what about the guy at his own house and had the neighbor have fireworks come right at him from the misuse of consumer fireworks and is now disabled it happened right hear in sterling heights. Oh and by the way who has a yard large enough in this city to use them because i know at one point Mr Gariepy made a video of what the proper place to use these type of fireworks. Sidewalk and street use is clearly improper correct? I also don’t understand how the state decides to pass this fireworks law and say oh while we want people to buy them here instead of in ohio when ohio only lets you buy them as well considering they tell you that you can not actually use them in ohio. Puzzling isn’t it?

  2. Don’t have any feelings towards sky lanterns but in regards to fireworks anything they can do to change things back to prior to 2011 would be better then what they have now. While that law was in place the only time you really heard any was around the 4th of july and then they died off. Now with them being readily available they light them off when ever they feel like and its a joke. Not only that the fact of how it leads to distracted driving because of all the noise and nonsense allowing them year round creates. Have you ever tried driving with this going on like i have? Would you like to be driving down a major road and have them being fired off into the street as your trying to go to work i don’t think so. Or have your neighbors let there young children light them off and be told by the police that nothing can be done since it happened on the 4th? With comments like those Joe i will be thinking twice about who i vote for come November.

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