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Sherman Says: Why is it still illegal to sell consumer fireworks in New York state?

SPRINGVILLE — An interesting letter arrived at my office, the other day: a two-page, postage-paid pitch that questioned why it is still illegal to sell and use consumer-level fireworks in New York state.

The letter was sent by William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks of Youngstown, Ohio. That’s the firm that has a large store right off Interstate 90 in North East, Pa., about 75 miles from downtown Buffalo.

“Hasn’t the time come for New York to step into the 21st century and follow the lead of 46 other states, to make some level of consumer fireworks legal for sale and use, in the state?” Weimer asked. “Everyone loves fireworks.”

He drew a parallel to professional sports.

“People love to watch major league sports, but they also love to play sandlot sports. The same holds true with fireworks. People love to watch professional displays, but they also love to shoot their own backyard fireworks, too,” he wrote.

If Weimer wants New York state to change its position on the sale and use of backyard fireworks, he should consider some of the language used for his firm’s products. For example, there’s the “Air Assault Collection.”

Priced at $249, the set is far from the skinny firecrackers with which we grew up. Many of us were told we would shoot our eyes out, or blow off our fingers, if we played with fireworks.

The Air Assault Collection has “Three different types of shells, with tons of different effects.” A customer calling himself Timmy wrote the following review.

“The mortars in this kit are wonderful. The worst part is the included cardboard tubes. I got about four shots from each tube, before they went bad. I had to stop shooting, because the inside of the tube started shredding and a shell exploded, in the tube. They shot wonderful from my lock and load kit. The larger break shells have a more powerful launch that the tubes could not handle. A great kit, if you have fiberglass tubes,” he wrote.

Assault? Mortars? Lock and load? This is a marketing disaster.

Then there’s “Silver Sonic Warhead,” “Machine Gun Shell” and “Rain of Fire.”

Weimer makes the point that 46 other states allow the sale and use of consumer fireworks. He claims the products are safer, today, than ever before.

“New York legislators have the power to change the fireworks laws and take New Yorkers out of the shadows of uncertainty and illegality and bring New York to parity, with 46 other states. This is long overdue,” he wrote. “There are only four states in the U.S. that prohibit all forms of consumer fireworks and New York is one of them. There is no reason for this to continue.”

Safety is the reason the law remains on the books, despite the difficulty in enforcing it. Yes, fireworks have started tragic house fires and seriously injured individuals who did not handle them properly. Yet, Weimer said that the number of fireworks-related injuries, as reported by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fell by more than 23 percent, from 1994 – 2011.

He added that imports of fireworks doubled to an astronomical 234 million pounds, during the same period.

“Fireworks-related accidents do occur each year, however, most could be eliminated, if some basic safety steps had been taken,” said Nancy Blogin, president of the National Council on Fireworks Safety. For example, “Never hold a child in your arms, while using sparklers.” Good to know.

Consumer-level fireworks are no less safe in New York than they are in Pennsylvania. It seems that the sales end of the business is well controlled and protected from minors. It’s a seasonal business, at best, here in the Northeast. Let’s get behind Weimer and encourage state legislators to scrap the laws against consumer level fireworks.

But, until some of military jargon is changed by the folks at Phantom, I will let my skilled neighbors provide the fun on the Fourth. Have a safe holiday.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com

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2013-07-18 | 08:37:38
not legal
I find it interesting that I am reading this in Georgia, another state that does not allow the sale of fireworks. Occasionally the issue will come up here, then quickly fade away due to lack of interest. A short road trip will allow us to purchase fireworks in adjacent states, and this seems to work well enough. The profits and sales taxes go to the other states, while our lawmakers continue to "keep us safe". Go figure.
2013-09-21 | 15:08:53
Fireworks
I have been trains and certified by one of largest fireworks companies in the country, safety, proper use and precaution are very important, keeping them illegal is not. Every year many users put themselves and others in danger due to the lack of knowledge and improper use of fire works. If the sale and use of fireworks were regulated and consumers were educated in proper use of these devices, inevitably accidents and injuries would reduce. It is when things are illegal that they are misused and abused. It's time for New York to consider revoking this law and spend more of their valuable time and resources dealing with the more serious maters of this state.