Disclaimer douses fuse on potential powder keg
The purchase of fireworks from a south Leavenworth County fireworks stand next week will include a disclaimer stipulating that possessing and discharging fireworks is illegal in Johnson County.
The stand, to be located north of DeSoto across the Kansas River on the Leavenworth County border, is being operated by the DeSoto Watermelon Festival Committee, which stands to make thousands of dollars from the fund-raiser, all of which will be put into the DeSoto community in some way.
"It's for a good cause," said Marge Morse, co-chairperson of the DeSoto Watermelon Festival Committee.
Still, some question the ethics of this fund-raiser. While the committee is well within its right to sell the fireworks outside Johnson County, members admit that many of their customers will be DeSoto community members.
But committee members claim just because DeSoto residents buy fireworks doesn't mean they will use them in DeSoto.
"How do we know they're going to shoot them off in DeSoto?" Morse said. "I don't have a moral obligation to tell them not to use them in Johnson County. They know the law just like I do."
However, just to make sure, the committee later chose to create the disclaimer, which will tell customers where the use of fireworks is prohibited.
"You're probably going to have a percentage of people that are going to shoot them off anyway," said DeSoto Chamber of Commerce President Pat Atchison. "All you can do is tell people what is illegal.
"People do have a personal responsibility to make sure they follow the law."
Atchison said acceptable areas to shoot fireworks might also be listed on the disclaimer.
"I'm not a big fireworks fan, myself," she said. "I would just hope that people would take them places they can safely and legally shoot them."
In past years, DeSoto residents have gone over county and even state lines to purchase fireworks, Atchison said.
"What they do with them, we have no idea," she said. "There are going to be some people in DeSoto who shoot them off illegally. These are the people who feel it's their inherent right as Americans to shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July.
"It's a part of our heritage."
Heritage or not, fireworks are illegal in this county because of the fire hazard they have the potential to create.
"I think all fireworks are dangerous. People need to have a safe place to discharge them," said Kevin Ritter, DeSoto's assistant fire chief. "Expect the unexpected with fireworks."
That was the main reason the county voted to ban fireworks several years ago. In recent years Ritter said DeSoto has had no major incidences on the Fourth of July. There was a minor brush fire one year, but it was quickly contained.
Still, locals might expect a little more police protection on Tuesday. Law enforcement agencies will be out in force and those caught with fireworks will have them confiscated and could receive a ticket, according to a representative from the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.
Bryan Scribner contributed to this report.