Once Again, the Firework Cops Failed To Stop People From Celebrating Freedom With a Boom

Firework seizures and buyback programs won't stop millions of Americans from setting off black-market bottle rockets tonight.


Smugglers helped build America. It's fitting that they're crucial to the celebration of her special day.

In the run-up to the Fourth of July holiday, headlines were filled with the typical stories of police and politicians' desperate efforts to control the flow of illegal fireworks into prohibitive jurisdictions. But odds are that, regardless of state law or county ordinance, your fellow citizens will be honoring freedom with a few resounding booms tonight.

Massachusetts is both the cradle of our revolution and the last place consumer fireworks are still illegal across the board. This past week, state troopers there seized some 1,500 individual rockets and roman candles being shipped into the state from neighboring New Hampshire.

The loot was valued at some $30,000 according to local news reports. But the deterrent effect of the seizures seems limited.

When Reason called around to a few fireworks shops on the other side of the New Hampshire border (including one literally called Fireworks Over the Border located a few feet from the state line), everyone said they were too busy handling customers to talk to the press.

Rampant fireworks smuggling is not just common. Often it was de facto encouraged by states' consumer fireworks laws.

In Ohio, you could purchase consumer fireworks but only after signing a form promising you'd take them out of state within 48 hours. In neighboring Pennsylvania, only customers with out-of-state driver's licenses could purchase fireworks that actually shoot up into the air.

The two states eliminated those restrictions over the past few years—part of a nationwide trend of liberalized fireworks.

Where consumer fireworks are still prohibited, however, smuggling abounds. Law enforcement is getting increasingly creative, if not increasingly effective, at cracking down on this black market.

Los Angeles County hosted a firework buyback event this past Saturday in an effort to get people to turn in their verboten cherry bombs and M80s. In exchange, people could receive gift cards for gas and groceries, reported LAist.

Last year's buyback netted about 500 pounds of fireworks. Neither that buyback nor L.A. police's botched detonation of a 32,000-pound illegal stash discovered in a backyard did much to whet the fuses of L.A.'s amateur pyrotechnicians.

Local media was awash with illegal fireworks lighting up the Independence Day sky. We can expect similar scenes tonight.

Oftentimes, it seems like state officials are in on the joke of illegal firework use. In Florida, fireworks are legal but only 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," Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association told Reason in 2018.

America was created by people who played it fast and loose with the laws on the books until they eventually decided to try and make something better. Tonight, people will honor that rebellious spirit by blowing up a small part of what the Founders built. God Bless.