Rule changes appear to have had desired impact.
At a first glance, the Herald-DigiPoll survey which found almost 40 per cent of people want the sale of fireworks banned appeared to underpin the view that backyard displays will soon be a thing of the past. Many people have clearly had enough of the explosions on November 5 and the more random blasts in the following days, weeks and months. They want fireworks to be restricted to public displays, as in Australia. Yet, if anything, the survey represents a vote for the status quo. Most of the remaining 60 per cent of respondents are content with the current regulations on the sale and use of fireworks. That group is noticeably high in number by the standards of the past few years.
As much is confirmed by a UMR nationwide poll in 2007 that found 63 per cent of the 750 respondents thought firework sales to the public should be banned. A Fire Service survey at much the same time produced much the same result. This occasioned the then Opposition leader, John Key, to say he believed a ban was inevitable.
The polls were taken at a time when stupid and dangerous acts were leading to a large number of serious injuries, especially to the young. Yet to make an impact were the changes introduced late in 2006 by the previous Government. These raised the age of purchase from 14 to 18 and restricted sales to the four days up to and including November 5. The tighter controls were widely scorned, with the Fire Service sceptical they would make a difference and the SPCA president, Bob Kerridge, accusing the Labour Government of being "wussy".
They have had the desired impact, however. The number of fireworks-related 111 calls has reduced dramatically, and the Herald-DigiPoll survey suggests most people believe the correct balance was being struck. One side of that balance is, obviously, public safety. But another is the pleasure that sensible parents with young families continue to get from fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day.
That cannot be measured, unlike the the call-outs and injuries resulting from the careless use of fireworks. It also does not attract the same publicity as the mindless behaviour of a small minority. Nonetheless, it remains the major reason for resisting a ban. As much as the advocates of public displays at beaches and parks would deny it, those occasions simply do not supply as much fun as backyard pyrotechnics.
There will always be an element of risk with the latter and, arguably, there should be restrictions on some of the more potentially damaging fireworks. But the 2006 changes have clearly done much to improve safety and, indeed, have changed the focus of those who want a ban on sales to the public.
Their opposition today is more likely to be concentrated on noise levels. Large bangs, not brilliance, is much of the attraction for those who misuse fireworks but they cause much anguish for neighbours, particularly when they are let off randomly many nights after November 5. It is relatively easy to provide for the safety of household pets one night a year, but far more difficult if disruptive explosions occur intermittently for a long time thereafter.
Most of the letters to this newspaper last year in the weeks following November 5 from people wanting a ban complained about this practice. As they pointed out, it bore no relation to Guy Fawkes Day and the foiling of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. These people may well be satisfied if private fireworks were restricted to that day and a few immediately afterwards. If so, backyard firework displays should endure far longer than seemed likely to be the case just a few years ago.