Pennsylvania’s liberalized fireworks law, passed in 2017, underwent its second big test over the recent Fourth of July weekend.
Of course, if you’re someone who measures Independence Day in degrees of personal firepower, this holiday was anything but a dud.
Overall, however, Pennsylvania’s legalization of “consumer grade” fireworks has led to a statewide celebration in which people routinely break the law. The noise pollution isn’t the worst of it. Several towns reported fires on buildings that had to be extinguished. In Luzerne County, an 11-year-year boy died in a house fire ignited by fireworks, according to The Citizens’ Voice.
And pet owners were reminded again there is no way to shield dogs and cats from the explosions they perceive more acutely than we do — except maybe putting them in the car and leaving town.
Under the two-year-old law, passed by the Legislature to help plug a budget deficit, Pennsylvania residents are permitted to buy and set off fireworks that had been prohibited for decades. That includes Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers with no more than 50 milligrams of explosive material.
The same law says setting off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied dwelling is illegal, which makes most neighborhoods in cities and suburbs off limits.
That prohibition is useless. Ask any police officer.
Ask anyone who had to clean up a neighbor’s mess, or worry about someone else’s skyrockets raining down on the roof.
Those kinds of incidents were evident all around the Lehigh Valley over the recent Thursday-Sunday holiday weekend.
Other than people exceeding speed limits, you have to think this is the most widely flouted law on the books, especially around the relevant holidays.
Police are hamstrung, except in the most egregious cases. To issue a citation, they usually have to witness someone lighting a fuse. The maximum penalty is a $100 fine.
Some towns have ordinances setting a nightly cutoff of 9 or 10 p.m. Again, hard to enforce.
Fireworks have their time and place in holiday celebrations. The best is in the hands of professionals who oversee municipal displays, but responsible individual use is OK — with common-sense limits on projectiles and firepower.
An unintended consequence of the new law — based on anecdotal evidence, admittedly, because statistics are nearly nonexistent — is the increasing popularity of more explosive fireworks banned for consumer use by federal and state laws — cherry bombs, quarter sticks, M-80s, M-100s, and aerial displays.
New Jersey still holds to a more conservative approach, similar to Pennsylvania’s previous law: Sparklers, novelties and things that don’t go airborne are OK to fire up.
After two years of witnessing the effects of the Pennsylvania law, many municipal officials, firefighters and a group of state legislators are calling for change — either repealing the law or amending it. The Pennsylvania Career Fire Chiefs Association wants it buried.
A bill introduced by state Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, a volunteer fire chief, would give municipalities more power to enact and enforce restrictions. Fireworks use would be limited to 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., except for New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, and days around the 4th of July, which would have a 1 a.m. deadline. Penalties for violations would be increased.
Simply tweaking a law that is universally disregarded isn’t going to do much. And please note, the appeal for a little more peace and quiet is going up against a 12 percent tax on fireworks sales that brings in millions to the state treasury. (Poof.)
The idea here isn’t to throw cold water on the celebration of our independence, but to reconsider a law that invites people to break it with impunity, stoking an increase in personal injuries and destruction of property. And occasionally, death. Who would vote for a bill like that?
— The Easton Express Times