Fireworks and the 4th of July

Under current New York law, N.Y. Penal Law § 270.00 makes the sale and possession of fireworks illegal. The law dates back to section 1844a of the Penal Law of 1909 which was enacted into law in 1940. In 1997 certain fireworks were reclassified as “dangerous fireworks”. These fireworks are capable of causing serious physical injury and include torpedoes, skyrockets, Roman candles and bombs. Current law penalizes as a violation the possession or use of fireworks or dangerous fireworks, and penalizes as a class B misdemeanor the sale of fireworks or dangerous fireworks. Any person who sells fireworks or dangerous fireworks valued at $500 or more, or who sells dangerous fireworks to a minor, is guilty of a class R misdemeanor. Finally, any person who, within the past five years has previously been convicted of the sale of dangerous fireworks is guilty of a class E felony.

For Fourth of July celebrations beyond 2012, that could change if Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a bill recently passed by the State Senate and Assembly. The proposed law would legalize the sale of hand-held sparkles, ground sparkler displays and other so-called novelty items. Explosive devices, including firecrackers and Roman candles, would still be banned. The proposed law would not apply to New York City, where all fireworks would remain illegal. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Delaware are the only four states that ban all forms of fireworks. Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, (D, New City) and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, (D, Rochester), co-sponsors of the bill, say people are crossing into other states to buy fireworks or buying them in underground markets. Making fireworks legal will bring in about $50 million in annual sales and $2 million in state sales tax.

Safety advocates are concerned legalizing some fireworks is putting profit ahead of safety. Fireworks can be dangerous, causing serious burn and eye injuries. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) supports a ban on all sales of consumer fireworks. “The AAP continues to urge families NOT to buy fireworks for their own or their children’s use,” their website states. “Each July 4th, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires and even death.” This video from the AAP relates the dangers of fireworks.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in 2010 three people were killed and about 8,600 others were hurt in fireworks. In 2009, there were two deaths and approximately 8,800 injuries. The year before, there were seven people killed and an estimated 7,000 others hurt. Read the 2010 report here.