Consumer fireworks have been sold in Pennsylvania for about 20 years. Until 2018, however, Pennsylvanians were prohibited from buying products in their own state, which could be purchased by persons who did not live in the state. In other words, Pennsylvanians were being treated as second class citizens in their own state. That law made no sense whatsoever.
As written, the law prohibits setting off fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure, including a vehicle. That means in an urban setting, the use of consumer fireworks is limited to public parks or homeowners with large properties. With regard to parks, the municipality is in total control over who and how the park is used. That is the current law. With regard to private property, if anyone other than the owner is to use the property, it must be with permission. Again, that is the law today.
Clearly, the legal use of Consumer fireworks is severely limited in urban settings. What I have heard for the past three years is the municipal equivalent of “Groundhog Day” with the primary complaint being “we can’t charge offender because we must see the violation.” However, that requirement is not unlike enforcing motor vehicle violations, which in most cases must occur in the officers presence. I will say the Pennsylvania State Police have figured out how to remind the overwhelming majority of motorists to obey traffic laws. One way is “targeted enforcement” and public information to create awareness of increased enforcement, especially during holidays. July 4 happens every year and every year there are fireworks. My question to municipalities: What did you do in the past year to address your July 4 problems? Did you have a public awareness campaign? With years of experience, did you target those areas where violations have been prevalent in the past?
Some municipal entities have said they need more flexibility to adopt ordinances controlling fireworks. Absent, authority for a complete ban, I am not aware of any ordinance which would negate the requirement that a violation of the type discussed would not require observation of the offense. If state law cannot be enforced passing a similar local ordinance does not change anything.
One area which I would support is that of increasing penalties for violation of the current law. This is consistent with the theory behind the traffic law enforcement mentioned above. Drivers do violate traffic laws, but enforcement and penalties are such that the majority of drivers voluntarily follow the law. I think that same approach is doable with regard to fireworks, which are extremely popular in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, not one municipality or group has come to me in person to discuss any of these issues and how we could work together. Not one!