This holiday weekend is a long one, giving people everywhere ample opportunity to stock up on all manner of fireworks from not-at-all sketchy roadside vendors conveniently situated near the state border. But are you actually allowed to set off those Big Bang Boomers and Star Spangled ‘Splosions, or are you limited to staring into the glinting abyss of a sparkler, hoping to recapture the simple joys of youth?
As usual, that largely depends on where you live.
There are two rules — conveniently both on the same page of the Code of Federal Regulations — that govern fireworks on a nationwide level.
The first rule — Title 16, Part 1500.17(a)(3) for those keeping track — prohibits: “Fireworks devices intended to produce audible effects (including but not limited to cherry bombs, M-80 salutes, silver salutes, and other large firecrackers, aerial bombs, and other fireworks designed to produce audible effects, and including kits and components intended to produce such fireworks) if the audible effect is produced by a charge of more than 2 grains of pyrotechnic composition.”
Later down the page, you’ll see that subparagraph (a)(8) also bans: “Firecrackers designed to produce audible effects, if the audible effect is produced by a charge of more than 50 milligrams (.772 grains) of pyrotechnic composition (not including firecrackers included as components of a rocket), aerial bombs, and devices that may be confused with candy or other foods, such as ‘dragon eggs,’ and ‘cracker balls’ (also known as ‘ball-type caps’), and including kits and components intended to produce such fireworks.”
There are exceptions to these bans, but they generally apply to farmers and ranchers for practical wildlife management purposes. We’re guessing that most of you won’t be using firecrackers to scare animals away from your crops this weekend.
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But what about my state, you ask? Good question. Rather than walk everyone through each state’s particular rules, we’ll point you to the folks at the American Pyrotechnics Association, who have this handy breakdown of the peculiarities in each state.
There are only a handful of states that outright prohibit the use of fireworks. For instance, while Delaware might be the home of tax-free shopping, all consumer-grade fireworks, including sparklers, are not allowed under state law. The same for New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Another three states are dubbed “sparkler” states because of state laws that effectively ban the use of anything but novelty fireworks. In Ohio, people can buy some fireworks, but they generally can’t use them in the state. Vermont allows sparklers, snakes, party poppers and the like, but not firecrackers, and the Illinois state Fire Marshall has a list of approved and prohibited products, which is largely limited to novelty items.
The rest of the country gets more complicated, with states ranging from very close to being sparkler-only, to others that say it’s all okay so long as it meets those two federal rules.