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The Danger of Crossing State Lines for July Fourth Fireworks

Fireworks with a "no" sign
By A.J. Firstman and Eric Harvey, J.D. | Last updated on

Almost everyone loves fireworks. They are bright and colorful. They are pretty. They go boom! 

For most people, firework are an integral part of any Fourth of July celebration, whether at home or out watching a professional pyrotechnic display. It's almost sacrilegious to imagine an Independence Day without at least some colorful explosions.

Some state governments, however, feel differently about the use of fireworks by regular folk. They only see the dangers of amateur firework displays and put harsh restrictions in place. That doesn't stop stores in neighboring states from selling consumer fireworks to people willing to cross state lines to get them. (As an aside, have you ever wondered how fireworks stores can stay in business with sales like "buy one, get four free"?)

State and Federal Laws Are not on Your Side

If you live in a state like Illinois, which prohibits many types of fireworks, you likely know that a quick trip to Missouri, Indiana, or Iowa will allow you to purchase sparklers, bottle rockets, firecrackers, roman candles, or nearly any other type of consumer firework your heart desires.

But most anti-fireworks laws do not just crack down on the sale and purchase of fireworks. They also prohibit their possession, as well. In many cases you can cross a border, buy them legally, then suddenly find yourself in possession of illegal fireworks when you cross back into your home state. State laws vary on the subject, but in many states the possession and/or use of fireworks could constitute a misdemeanor or fineable offense—and no one wants to spend Independence Day in the back of a squad car.

Federal law also prohibits the transportation of fireworks into a state where state law prohibits them.

In fact, the only state with fireworks laws that allow for transporting fireworks across state lines is Ohio. Laws in the state of Ohio allow the sale of most consumer fireworks. However, they require Ohioans to transport them out of the state within 48 hours of purchase. Those fireworks will be legal to discharge in all surrounding states.

Leave the Pyrotechnics to the Professionals

The penalties for a violation of your state's fireworks laws will increase in severity depending on the state fireworks laws and what you did with the fireworks in question. Possessing a few spinners or sparklers isn't great, but probably not going to get you in much trouble with the law. Setting off bottle rockets may earn you a fine or worse. Damaging property with a firecracker or starting a wildfire by shooting something flammable with a roman candle is blazing right into misdemeanor and/or felony territory. And if someone gets injured or killed with a misfired aerial shell or skyrocket then you might as well start getting ready for prison.

Remember, even if your local police department typically turns a blind eye to setting off some illegal fireworks around the Fourth of July, there are no guarantees you won't face consequences. The same applies for your safety. The best way to avoid any serious injuries is to enjoy a professional fireworks display from a safe distance. Professional pyrotechnic operators probably know more about fireworks safety than you do (and typically have permission from the state fire marshal), so maybe stick to party poppers and the occasional sparkler.

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