Archive for Thursday, June 29, 2000

Sale of fireworks sparks local controversies


June 29, 2000

The sale and possession of fireworks in Johnson County is illegal. It's written in black and white and strictly enforced by most law enforcement agencies in the vicinity.

Sadly, in DeSoto there are people who choose to turn their collective back on this ordinance.

Jim Oyler's situation is unique. A member of the United Tribe of Shawnee Indians, Oyler claims his property, located just outside the DeSoto city limits, is not part of Johnson County or any county, for that matter.

He has been selling fireworks from his land for years without much resistance from Johnson County. This year, the sheriff's department has already sent him a letter warning him not to sell Fourth of July fireworks this year.

Oyler scoffed at the threat.

In fact, he threatened a lawsuit if the county tries to stop him.

The rights of Native Americans complicate this issue. It's uncertain whether Oyler is free to sell fireworks on his property, but one thing is clear: unless people buying fireworks from Oyler discharge them on his property, they are in violation of possessing illegal fireworks the minute they drive away.

Residents should remember this.

For someone to sell fireworks illegally, it takes someone willing to buy them. It's a two-way street and no party is guiltier than the other.

The county could easily put Oyler out of business by going after the people who buy from him. And it should enforce the law, which is put in place for a reason: to protect its citizens.

That would solve the problem, minus the lawsuit.

If only all issues were so clear-cut.

The DeSoto Watermelon Festival Committee would not be able to put on the annual festival if not for fund-raisers one of which is the sale of fireworks for the first time ever.

Because selling fireworks is illegal in Johnson County, the Watermelon Festival is setting up its stand just over the Leavenworth County line.

The committee did not think this one through. Clearly its collective heart was in the right place, but it did not ask all the questions before embarking on this issue.

What it is doing is perfectly legal, but there is an ethical question that comes into play: Is selling fireworks to DeSoto residents wrong?

Some have rationalized it by saying these same people are going to buy the fireworks regardless of the legality somewhere so it might as well be from the committee, which, no one can doubt, is raising money for a worthwhile event.

Still, we're not sure the end justifies the means.

To their credit, the committee decided on Monday to include a disclaimer in all purchases to remind customers that fireworks are illegal in Johnson County. That's a step in the right direction.

We understand it would have to sell a whole lot of cupcakes to make up for the revenue loss from not selling fireworks. However, that's not really an excuse any more than the explanation a street walker might give as his reason for selling drugs: I can make more money doing this than flipping burgers.

It's still illegal and unethical.

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