Legal or Illegal, Fireworks Are More Available Than Ever

Widespread demand, scofflawry, and loosening laws are making firecrackers, fountains, and bottle rockets easier to get.


Steve Mantell/

One of my fonder childhood memories involves igniting a small batch of home-brewed gunpowder on the windowsill in my bedroom. I had vague plans for making my own firecrackers, or cherry bombs, or maybe a cannon—something that would go BOOM anyway. The stuff worked, though not quite so spectacularly as I'd hoped—fortunately.

Also fortunate is that such DIY efforts are often unnecessary in a country where many states feature booming markets in fireworks for such traditional celebrations as Independence Day. Even better, state fireworks laws have long been as fractured and diverse as Americans themselves are now, guaranteeing that, even if your own chosen address is a bit restrictive when it comes to matters pyrotechnic, a border near you likely offers legal refuge to a variety of loud and flammable goods. Even Americans suffering under the rule of fireworks killjoys often have the means to duck across the state line to acquire something pleasingly pyromaniacal, albeit illegal at home.

Here in Arizona, under pressure from residents who were tiring of driving elsewhere to make their purchases, in 2014 the legislature required the overcrowded hives cities of Maricopa and Pima counties to loosen up a bit and allow the sale and use of a limited range of consumer fireworks—at least at designated times during the year. That means that from May 20-July 6, and from December 10-January 3, you can purchase fireworks including "cylindrical and cone fountains, illuminating torches, wheels, ground spinners, flitter sparklers, ground sparkling devices," as the Phoenix Fire Department details. Allowed all the time are "novelty items" like snappers, poppers, sparklers, and the like. Forbidden all the time are things that shoot into the air, like bottle rockets and roman candles, and items that actually explode, like firecrackers—you know, the fun stuff.

But hey, loosening is loosening.

Arizona isn't the only state to lay off fireworks restrictions. Last year, Scientific American noted a growing trend toward easing rules. "Since the year 2000, 15 states have liberalized their fireworks laws." The end of restrictions in many places has been met with both growing demand and dropping prices, as manufacturers (many in China) step in to satisfy the appetite for flame and noise.

Care to do some shopping? The American Pyrotechnics Association maintains a handy online directory of ever-evolving state laws, so you know how far you'll need to drive to find your desired goods.

Why the trend toward loosening laws? Well, because people obviously enjoy playing with fireworks, and they don't allow lawmakers to thwart that taste for fun. Across the country, pop-up stands with packed parking lots, just across the border from restrictive states, are a common sight.

"We are certainly not driving south on Interstate 85 to cross the border to buy Roman candles — which are legal in that Carolina, but outlawed in ours," Drew Perry wrote tongue-in-cheek for North Carolina's Our State in 2015 "Here, you can buy sparklers, and not much else. There, you can probably buy howitzers."

For their part, Chicago residents head to "about a dozen fireworks shops packed along Indiana's border like a football team's offensive line," the Chicago Tribune reported in 2014. "In the weeks before July 4, they compete for the business of hordes of Chicagoland residents driving across the state line to escape Illinois' ban on consumer fireworks."

We Arizonans may be prohibited from using aerial devices, but they're available across the border in New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah, where they were legalized in 2011. And we have a border with Mexico, where creative, hand-crafted fireworks are a matter of pride, especially in Tultepec. Seriously, there's not much you can't get your hands on in the Southwest, one way or another.

California is so concerned about the cross-border flow of fireworks from jurisdictions where pyrotechnics are legal to a state where pretty much nothing is, that its cops are stopping and searching vehicles at the border. Not that California needs much of a nudge to go into Checkpoint Charlie mode, but it was sky rockets that did the trick, this time. And California cops love to show off their seizures in staged photo-ops, acting like a stack of confiscated flammable fun is akin to smuggled plutonium.

Pennsylvania surrendered to the inevitable last year and legalized the sale, purchase, and use of fireworks "that include firecrackers, Roman Candles, bottle rockets, and similar fireworks that contain a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material," according to the state police. Those pyrotechnics previously had to be smuggled into the state, but now are available locally.

You'd think that's be the end of the cross-border trade, but Pennsylvania also slapped fireworks with a special 12 percent sales tax that the industry is challenging in court. That leaves Ohio vendors advertising that their goods are a lot cheaper in the relatively low-tax haven just across the state line.

If only my younger self had known how demand, defiance of the law, and competing jurisdictions would have made fireworks so much more available in the future, I'd…No. Let's be real here. I'd still have set fire to that windowsill.

But you don't have to be me. Even if you suffer under the rule of killjoys, you can leave it to the pros and treat yourself to some smuggled pyrotechnics from a permissive jurisdiction near you.

NEXT: Ron Paul Slams 'Cultural Marxism' with a Quickly Deleted Bigoted Cartoon

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  1. I’ll repost this poem by Howard Nemerov:

    Because I am drunk, this Independence Night,
    I watch the fireworks from far away,
    from a high hill, across the moony green
    Of lakes and other hills to the town harbor,
    Where stately illuminations are flung aloft,
    One light shattering in a hundred lights
    Minute by minute. The reason I am crying,
    Aside from only being country drunk,
    That is, may be that I have just remembered
    The sparklers, rockets, roman candles and
    so on, we used to be allowed to buy
    When I was a boy, and set off by ourselves
    At some peril to life and property.
    Our freedom to abuse our freedom thus
    Has since, I understand, been remedied
    By legislation. Now the authorities
    Arrange a perfectly safe public display
    To be watched at a distance; and now also
    The contribution of all the taxpayers
    Together makes a more spectacular
    Result than any could achieve alone
    (A few pale pinwheels, or a firecracker
    Fused at the dog’s tail). It is, indeed, splendid:
    Showers of roses in the sky, fountains
    Of emeralds, and those profusely scattered zircons
    Falling and falling, flowering as they fall
    And followed distantly by a noise of thunder.
    My eyes are half-afloat in happy tears.
    God bless our Nation on a night like this,
    And bless the careful and secure officials
    Who celebrate our independence now.

      1. I’m making $80 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $120 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss. This is what I do… >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>..

  2. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston. We’d go into the North End of Boston, where a goomba (I’m Italian, so I can use the G word) would wave you into an alleyway for fireworks purchases.

    Later we’d drive just over the border of New Hampshire, where tents would spring up in the weeks leading to the 4th. You’d have to show an ID, then because we were from out out of state we’d have to sign a paper stating we were using the fireworks for ‘agricultural purposes only’.

    Now, weed is legal in Massatwoshits and I’m a 5 minute drive to the same pop up tents, just over the Rhode Island border. Let freedom (such as it is) ring!

    ‘I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’

    1. You can use any word buddy it is called freedom. The culture that determines you can only use faggot if you are gay and only nigger if you are black are the real racist. Cannot keep on reading a comment from a racist idiot.

    2. Egads! “Goomba” is a slur? My mother used to call me that as a child when I was being silly.

      Should I accuse her of a hate crime? Sue the family?

      -Nah, she has been dead more than 30 years.


    Freedom is never free.

  4. Firecrackers and rockets are legal in NH again which is nice. I was never quite clear why they were banned in the first place. You can blow yourself up pretty well with all the other stuff too. I suppose it was because people were apt to set them off in their hands.

  5. Classic Seanbaby: How to Show America You Care with Homemade Fireworks

    “My government told me fireworks were illegal. But this nation was founded on telling unjust laws where to suck us on the dick.”

  6. Those pyrotechnics previously had to be smuggled into the state, but now are available locally.

    Poor Ohio lost a lot of business when the (laughably full-time) PA legislature accidentally (I can only assume) legalized fireworks.

    1. Good. Ohio is terrible.

    2. Actually, no, (un?)fortunately. The weird thing about Pennsylvania is that it was legal to sell nearly anything to non PA residents, but they couldn’t sell to in staters. What they did was legalize sells to people in state, but they also imposed a new excise tax on fireworks for everybody, both in and out of state.

      As as result, as the Tax Foundation mentions:

      According to retailers, the tax has disrupted many shoppers’ annual tradition of traveling to Pennsylvania to buy fireworks, with some shoppers even leaving behind full shopping carts to go to another location. Phantom, a major retailer, has begun issuing notices in its magazines encouraging shoppers to drive to Ohio, where there is no added tax.

      So Ohio actually may be winning.

  7. So all these terrorist devices are now legal?
    Where is P.E.T.A. when you need it? Dogs will be cowering for days if not weeks.
    Well, the liberal yapping tiny dogs. Real hunting dogs of real Americans will be wondering why they aren’t out with the boss fetching dead ducks and the like.

    1. Nice bro keep up fighting the good fight.

    2. Interesting you mentioned that.

      Some dogs do get skittish and afraid of loud noises.

      We have a new dog. A Labrador less than a year old. This fourth I stood out on the deck with him when the local fireworks went off to see how he would react. He did not flinch or retreat but had that alert puppy look that says “WTF is that?”. Couple times I have been out with him in big thunderstorms. He just seemed to get that right away.

      Firecrackers are for kids. We had them. I think I have some left from when the Canada Geese invaded one spring. Toss out a firecracker and they will nest somewhere else. Then again I have the dog now. He seems clueless about the geese but they go away if they see him.

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