Let Freedom Boom

Fireworks are no different from any other good demanded by consenting individuals.


Those looking to celebrate America by blowing up a small piece of it this Fourth of July will want to take an extra close look at their state's fireworks regulations. At the federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sets some basic standards about how long (or short) fuses can be, what kinds of chemicals can be used, how much external flame they can produce, etc. But from there, it is a bit of a free-for-all.

In Wisconsin you can buy fireworks year-round, whereas Oregon asks that you save your explosive purchases for the weeks leading up to Independence Day. In Alabama you can procure fireworks to celebrate your sweet 16, while in New Hampshire you have to wait until you're old enough to buy booze. (Yep, 19- and 20-year-olds are considered too irresponsible.)

Free-living Alaska has no state-level restrictions, meaning everything from M80s to Catherine Wheels are up for grabs. But other places, including Illinois and Vermont, permit only sparklers, snakes, and similar "novelty items." Most states fall somewhere in between, though Delaware and Massachusetts prohibit all consumer fireworks outright. And some places have truly bizarre regulations on the books.

Ohio will allow the sale of most any type of firework but requires the purchaser to sign an affidavit promising to take his or her loot out of state within 48 hours.

Until recently, Pennsylvania allowed the sale of most fireworks 365 days a year—but only to people who could show out-of-state identification. This setup denied Keystone residents their firework freedoms while implicitly undermining similar prohibitions in bordering states.

Then there's Florida, which forbids the sale of fireworks for recreational use but allows them for pest-control purposes. "With all the stand-alone fireworks-only superstores in the state of Florida, there shouldn't be a critter left alive," says Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a trade group.

The Florida rule, she says, is emblematic of a "look the other way" approach to fireworks regulation. "It's kind of wink-and-nod enforcement. We don't support it, but we'll allow it."

In the past few years, Heckman adds, there's finally been a shift toward authorizing the underground fireworks usage that has long occurred without states' permission. Since 2011, Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan, and several other governments allowed the full range of fireworks that were already legal at the federal level. New Jersey and New York took more cautious steps, abolishing their prohibitions on consumer combustibles but only going so far as to legalize handheld novelties.

For many families, this means more exciting and colorful Independence Day celebrations. But Heckman explains that it can also reduce deaths and injuries from fireworks.

"In the areas that have a prohibition or a restriction, we tend to find the injuries and the fires are higher than where they are legally permissible," she says. "Individuals are choosing to break the law and are trying to get away with that activity very, very quickly. They don't think out where they should put their family and spectators. They don't think about making certain there's no dry debris or clearance from the house or other buildings."

Deaths from fireworks are mercifully rare. An average of seven people die annually from "non-occupational" fireworks use, although this number varies considerably from year to year: 2015 was exceptionally deadly, with 11 people losing their lives to firework-related injuries; 2016, meanwhile, saw only four deaths, and one occurred while the victim was attempting to manufacture his own illegal fireworks.

A little over three people per 100,000 suffer a firework-related wound each year. That rate has remained steady despite a massive increase in the number of fireworks in use: 29 million pounds of product was sold in 1976, compared to over 268 million pounds in 2016.

Fireworks, then, are no different from any other good demanded by consenting individuals. They are most dangerous when prohibited, largely because of how prohibition influences consumer behavior. Lawmakers in more restrictive states should take notice and let their citizens blow up whatever they want—for safety's sake.

NEXT: Brickbat: Taking It to The Streets

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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. [places hand over heart, hums "America the Beautiful" at the allowed volume]

  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.'

  3. Drink all day
    and rock night.
    Law come to get ya
    if you don't walk

  4. I grew up in Southern Illinois, and Illinois of course is a nanny state where fireworks are prohibited.

    Thankfully, the Cops in Southern Illinois were good at looking the other way so long as you weren't being an asshole with your fireworks.

    On one occasion I recall seeing an Illinois State Trooper, in uniform, with his patrol vehicle buying fireworks.


    Freedom is never free.

    1. I've always suspected you were a Russian troll (because of your poor understanding of American history among other things) and now here we find you referring to Americans in the third person.

      1. We all know that YOU are a Russian agent trying to find enemies of Hillary.

        I am an enemy of Hillary. You found me.

      2. Rev. Kirk, is that you?

  6. "In Wisconsin you can buy fireworks year-round,"

    Yes, you can buy them, but you can't legally use them in 99% of cases. In fact, technically for most of it, mere possession is illegal. Most of the fireworks stores in Wisconsin are located in the boarder counties, and the general legal expectation is that most of the sales will be to non-residents and it's the buyer's problem if they aren't legal in their home state.

    Under state law, you can't legally use anything other than snakes, smoke bombs and sparklers without the kinds of permits that would be required for a full scale professional fireworks display.

    In Milwaukee you can't legally use any fireworks, not even sparklers or smoke bombs.

    1. Milwaukee is one of the least free areas in the state - their fireworks regulations do not surprise me.

      As for permits, how hard they are to get ranges from "impossible" in some areas to "just ask" in others. In smaller towns and villages, it often depends on the personal beliefs of the relevant government official.

  7. To hell with buying fireworks, make your own.

      1. Be careful. Have you seen the video of Monroe Georgia dumbass who blew up lawnmower with tannerite and a piece of metal sheered his leg off?

        Monroe Georgia guys blows leg off using Tannerite

  8. I'm OK with Snakes and Sparklers!

  9. Ohio will allow the sale of most any type of firework but requires the purchaser to sign an affidavit promising to take his or her loot out of state within 48 hours.

    Does sending them up into the air count for "out of state"?

  10. If you have a wood shingle roof on your house, today is a good day to wet it down with a water hose. Other types of shingles are harder to light, but generate poisonous gases when they smolder.

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