Tradition Trumps Bans for Fireworks Fanatics

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A sign in LaVergne, Tenn., suggests customers could at least stock up on fireworks for later.

A sign in LaVergne, Tenn., suggests customers could at least stock up on fireworks for later.

For people in the fireworks business, this should be their black Friday. Only this year, three-quarters of the country is experiencing some level of drought. More than a dozen cities in Middle Tennessee have banned fireworks for the year. But that’s not keeping committed revelers from the rush of lighting a fuse.

Freddie Bowers smiles and stares at the explosions of white overhead. They illuminate the sandy brown grass below. It’s easy to see why several small fires in Rutherford County have been blamed on fireworks.

Bowers is an admitted pyro, so good luck keeping him out of his stash, ban or not.

“They’re not going to ban Christmas,” Freddie Bowers says. “They’re not going to ban 4th of July.”

Bowers is a third generation fireworks salesman. He and his dad Larry have been selling fireworks in LaVergne for a lifetime.

The Bowers' tent in LaVergne is part of a three-generation business.

The Bowers’ tent in LaVergne is part of a three-generation business.

“I don’t do it just to shoot the fireworks,” Larry Bowers says. “I do it because it’s my Independence Day. And whether I shoot one firework or ten, I don’t want to break that tradition. I’m not going to. They’re just going to have to fine me…if they catch me.”

Law enforcement officers likely have bigger fish to fry. But even cities where fireworks have long been illegal say they’re stepping up enforcement this year. Metro Police typically look the other way. They didn’t hand out a single citation last year. But there’s a new “no tolerance” policy.

Selling Contraband

Murfreesboro Fire Marshal Ken Honeycutt tells the city council two grass fires in the last week are a result of fireworks.

Murfreesboro Fire Marshal Ken Honeycutt tells the city council two grass fires in the last week are a result of fireworks.

Temporary bans are now in place in Clarksville, Dickson and Gallatin. Murfreesboro made a last minute move to ban fireworks Monday, even discussing cancelling the public display. Vendors are still allowed to sell fireworks on the roadside. Assistant city attorney David Ives says it was too late to revoke their permits.

“People can buy them and can have them, but they cannot use them in Murfreesboro at this time and actually will not be able to use them until the New Years season,” Ives says.

Ives says he recognizes that most people are just shooting off fireworks in violation of the ban, not saving them until Christmas.

“But what we felt we needed to do to protect the community is to prohibit the use,” he says.

Fireworks wholesalers left the special-called meeting irritated and declined to comment for this story. There’s a lot on the line. Fireworks are nearly a billion-dollar business nationally.

The boots on the ground are guys like Kent Goolsby who work solely on commission and end up sleeping at their tents to protect the stock. Goolsby has what was a prime spot in the heart of Murfreesboro.

Sticking with Tradition

“Being right here, there’s almost no reason for people to come here if you can’t shoot ‘em,” he says.

It had already been a slow lead-up to the 4th, with the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the region. Vendor Sean White is saving up money before heading off to the Marine Corps and says he’s holding out hope.

“From what I understand, all of our money is supposed to be made on the 3rd and 4th. It’s just like, I’m hoping that happens,” White says. “Because what I’m seeing right now on paper, I don’t know if it’s worth my time.”

Back at the Bowers’ tent in LaVergne, customers are at a trickle. But from the sound of it, they’re not too concerned about getting caught.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with letting kids enjoy the things we’ve passed down with generations,” says Steven McShand. “I always enjoyed popping fireworks with my parents.”

And now McShand has a young son. He says a ban or even dry conditions won’t stop him from sharing the magic and excitement of lighting that first fuse together.

 

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