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...