Independence Day is still more than 11 weeks away, but discussion of Missoula's fireworks law is already lighting up council chambers.
"I'm not at all convinced that the only or best way to show your patriotism is to blow things up," says Councilman Dave Strohmaier.
The citywide ban on fireworks is a perennially contentious issue that's sparked years of debate. On one side are locals who dislike the pyrotechnics because they start fires, leave litter and make pets go berserk from the noise. On the other side are those who like to celebrate July 4 and feel fireworks are nothing but a show of patriotism.
"When people really want to nail the scofflaws on this fireworks thing, I think they have a picture in their mind of maybe some punk kid," says Missoula Fire Chief Jason Diehl, whose staff helps patrol fireworks complaints alongside the Missoula Police Department. He says it's not always punk kids but families that are often breaking the law.
Strohmaier has previously taken a no-tolerance stance on the issue. Last year, he called out Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir for law enforcement's failure to cite locals caught violating the city ordinance, an offense punishable by as much as a $500 fine.
"I think the time has come to issue additional citations," Strohmaier told Muir during a 2012 public meeting. Muir responded that he'd like more guidance from city officials about how to deal with the issue.
It appears that guidance is forthcomingand that Strohmaier's stance is softening.
Strohmaier and the council, at Diehl's suggestion, are investigating whether Missoula should amend its existing ban to allow fireworks for a limited period of time. "The idea is that for a day, July 4, certain types of fireworks would be allowed," Strohmaier says. "But the caveat is they would not be allowed any other day."
If approved, Missoula's fireworks law would mirror an ordinance Great Falls officials created in 2007. Havre crafted a similar rule in 2011.
In the coming weeks, Strohmaier will solicit input from colleagues, city staff and the public, further researching how similar efforts have fared in other parts of the state. He aims to have Missoula's newly amended law ready by July 4.
"We are actively seeking input on this," he says.