Reminder: Be safe on July 4
This Independence Day celebration in central Pennsylvania — and throughout the rest of the commonwealth — no doubt will be more colorful and noisy than any in the past.
This will be the first celebration of the nation’s independence since the state abandoned its archaic, overly restrictive fireworks rules — rules that were discarded by states.
The new law was signed last October by Gov. Tom Wolf as part of a 2017-18 budget package. While broadening the legal sale and use of fireworks, the law imposed a new 12-percent tax on the purchases.
Pennsylvania residents now are allowed to buy and use the full line of fireworks that comply with federal requirements for consumers. Display-grade fireworks still are limited to operators with a permit, and certain items remain illegal.
Those include devices such as M-80s, M-100s, cherry bombs and quarter- and half-sticks.
Consumer-grade fireworks are limited to buyers 18 and older, and have usage restrictions.
But with the broader access to these celebratory items comes more responsibility in regard to safety. The broader freedom-to-purchase doesn’t authorize irresponsible conduct — irresponsible conduct dangerous to the buyer, other people or to one’s own or others’ property.
And in line with that responsibility, those old enough to purchase the fireworks have the obligation to keep the devices out of the hands of those too young to legally possess them.
Along with all that, the new law requires permission from property owners and prohibits use inside of buildings or motor vehicles or within 150 feet of an occupied structure.
Although a violation is punishable by a fine of up to $100, it can be debated whether that punishment would be sufficient under certain circumstances.
In the days leading up to New Year’s, the first holiday under the expanded fireworks law, some municipal fire and emergency services officials expressed concern about the possibility of increased fire and injury cases. However, the holiday passed without any major situations.
However, New Year’s isn’t a warm weather time of the year generally conducive to fireworks use. The days and weeks leading up to the Independence Day holiday is the time when people are most attracted to fireworks purchases.
According to an Associated Press article published in the Mirror on Dec. 29, consumer-grade fireworks sales grew to 244 million pounds in 2016 from 102 million in 2000, a result of some states having liberalized their fireworks laws. It will be interesting to learn how 2018’s statistic stacks up now that Pennsylvania has loosened its fireworks restrictions.
Presumably, the state will track the number of reported fireworks injuries this year and reveal that number as soon as possible. It’s to be hoped that fears leading up to the holiday will be deemed as having been unnecessary.
Use the full line of consumer fireworks that the new law permits, if that’s your wish, but keep safety at the forefront.
This national holiday should be joyful, not remembered with sorrow and regret.