Crazy—and illegal—things can happen around the July 4th holiday, and as authorities attempt to contain the damage, some pretty dubious laws can make their way onto the books regarding the sale, use, and ownership of fireworks. Before you stock up, make sure you’re not violating one of these oddball laws.
No sale to residents—but out-of-staters are welcome
Pennsylvania allows the sale of fireworks, but if you live there, you’re not allowed to buy them. They can be sold only to out-of-state residents. New Yorkers frequently cross the border to buy fireworks in the Keystone State, since New York bans the sale and use of most consumer fireworks.
New York police know this, and often monitor the parking lots of Pennsylvania fireworks stores, looking for vehicles with New York plates. They then track the cars to the New York border and pull them over once they cross.
The Pennsylvania statute poses an interesting constitutional law question. The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution (Article IV, Section 2) says a state cannot treat the citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner. Pennsylvania’s fireworks law seems to stand this clause on its head, as it discriminates against the state’s own citizens.
Fireworks? No, no, these are for scaring birds!
Anyone can buy fireworks in Florida, but you must sign a waiver that you’re going to use them for railroad signals or illumination, for blasting or other industrial purposes, or for scaring birds away from farms and aquaculture operations. One might reasonably ask if the Sunshine State is inviting residents to commit fraud when they buy fireworks.
Ohio is another state that long encouraged purchasers to lie about their intended use of fireworks. The sale of fireworks is legal in the Buckeye State, but only to people who intend to take the pyrotechnics out of the state within 48 hours.
For years, Ohio purchasers had to sign paperwork attesting to their intent to bring the fireworks out of state within the requisite timeframe. The form is no longer required, but the law still mandates that Ohioans to take their fireworks beyond the state border.
Timing is everything
Fireworks might be legal in your state, but your state can decide to issue a ban over the Independence Day weekend. This frequently happens in southern states, when drought conditions make the fireworks a wildfire hazard.
Other states permit the use of fireworks only during certain periods. In Indiana, for example, people can set off fireworks year-round, but only between 9 am and 11 pm. South Dakota, on the other hand, restricts the use of fireworks to the period between June 27 and the first Sunday after July 4. The rest of the year they’re illegal.
Unless you’re a farmer raising a crop of sunflowers, in which case you can set off fireworks to scare the birds away from your sunflowers any old day. Go figure.