Today Is 4th Of July: Where Are Fireworks Legal?

By Philip Ross on July 3, 2013 11:02 AM EDT

fireworks 1
Fourth of July fireworks show. These are what commercial fireworks look like – not legal for personal use. (Photo: Creative Commons)
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These are consumer fireworks. The Federal government permits the use of personal fireworks like these ones, but fireworks laws still vary from state to state. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Fourth of July is almost here, and that means fireworks. Whether you're watching them on TV, in a park, by the water, or want to host your own, personal fireworks display on the Fourth of July, don't skip out on the fundamental Independence Day pastime.

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest fireworks display in history wasn't actually on the fourth; it happened Nov. 10, 2012 in the Persian Gulf country of Kuwait. During the country's 50th anniversary of its national constitution, nationalists launched 77,282 fireworks -- projecting the celebration into the pages of the Guinness World Record for largest fireworks display in the world.

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That's impressive.

Thinking of hosting your own, remarkable fireworks show this Independence Day? Before you go breaking any world records, make sure personal fireworks are permitted in your area. Illegal firework penalties can be steep, and you don't want to find yourself spending well-earned, Fourth of July booze money on expensive fines.

The geography of fireworks laws are as varied as fireworks themselves, but here's a good place to get you started (this is a rough outline of fireworks laws in the U.S., and is by no means the final authority on their legality. Always check your local fireworks laws online before using).

First Things First: Make Sure You're Using Legal Fireworks

There are two classes of fireworks: commercial and consumer. Commercial fireworks require a Federal license to purchase and use. Usually, only state officials can apply for commercial fireworks to use, say, for a city sanctioned Fourth of July fireworks show.

On the other hand, there are consumer fireworks. Referred to by the industry as DOT 1.4G fireworks, consumer fireworks are legal according to the federal government, but must be tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC. The CPSC makes sure the fireworks meet certain safety standards based on things like how large they are, how much powder they contain and how far they can be shot into the air.

Asbury Park Press that the import of fireworks into the U.S. have doubled from 117 million pounds in 1994 (the year the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory first started testing Chinese-made consumer fireworks for compliance with U.S. performance standards) to 234 million pounds in 2011. Injuries, however, have declined. According to the CPSC, the number of fireworks-related injuries has dropped more than 23 percent, from 12,500 to 9,600 over the same period.

Roman candles, sparklers, rockets, firecrackers with 50 milligrams of powder or less, snakes, ground spinners, helicopters, fountains and party poppers are just a few of the types of fireworks the government classifies as safe for consumers.

So what's a quick litmus test you can use to determine which fireworks are legal and which are not?

"If it explodes or shoots off the ground, it's illegal to have," Chief Ken Neff of the Merrill Police Department told Wisconsin's ABC 9.

Simple enough. Also, if you find yourself buying fireworks from a guy who only takes cash and sells his wares from the back of a van with no license plates on it, you're probably purchasing illegal fireworks. 

Where Are Consumer Fireworks Legal In U.S.?

Forty-six states make some consumer fireworks legal for sale and personal use. Just three states - Kentucky, Maine and Michigan -- give full consumer fireworks privileges.

Unfortunately, if you live in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or Delaware, you're out of luck. These states ban all consumer fireworks. Period.

Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Ohio and Vermont only permit the use of sparklers and other novelty fireworks within their borders. In Arizona, only novelty fireworks are allowed. Novelty fireworks include things like snakes, airplanes ground spinners, helicopters, fountains and party poppers. Shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, roman candles and rockets do not qualify as novelty.

As mentioned earlier, always check your local fireworks laws before buying and using them. Fireworks privileges, even in states that allow their use, can vary by county and municipality.

Read more from iScience Times:

Star Wars Day: 4 Ways To Celebrate 'May The 4th Be With You' [VIDEO]

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