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Are fireworks immune to the legal system?

As far as family traditions go, I imagine “crowd avoidance” is not at the top of most people’s list. In my family “crowd avoidance” is about as American as apple pie. Growing up, almost every Fourth of July was spent camping at Lake Jubilee in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. With only 52 total campsites, our objective of “crowd avoidance” was well served. We always showed up the week before in order to ensure we would get campsite 13 which was situated close to the lake but far enough off the beaten path so as to avoid unruly camping neighbors. The Fourth of July was spent in relative solitude and peace. No parades, no robust crowds, and certainly no fireworks. Because of this background, I have never quite understood the fascination with lighting off a bunch of mini-explosives shoddily manufactured by underpaid workers in a third-world country. Despite my lack of passion for pyrotechnic displays, I appreciate that for many families, the fireworks are an indispensable part of the Fourth of July.

It seems there is always at least one person in every neighborhood that has a reputation for obtaining the “good” fireworks – “good” being synonymous for illegal. Idaho law controls the purchase and sale of fireworks. Unless you have a permit to do otherwise, you can only use “nonaerial common fireworks” between June 23 and July 5 and December 26 and January 1. “Nonaerial common fireworks” are unofficially defined as impotent glow makers devoid of anything fun or worthwhile and officially defined as “ground spinners, fountains, sparklers, smoke devices or snakes designed to remain on or near ground and not to travel outside a fifteen foot diameter circle or emit sparks or other burning material which land outside a twenty foot diameter circle or above a height of 20 feet.” In order to sell fireworks, a permit needs to be obtained, and such permits can only be sold during the previously mentioned time periods. Bottle rockets and fireworks (believed by most people to be the “good fireworks”) that soar beyond 20 feet are illegal. Despite the fact they are illegal, the “good” fireworks can be purchased in the state of Idaho as long as you sign something that states you will not be be using them in the state. You read that correctly, you can buy illegal fireworks in the state you just cannot shoot them off in the state. Violation of the fireworks law is a misdemeanor.

The fireworks law raises all sorts of perplexing questions like:

  • Why is it legal to buy illegal fireworks? – that is akin to telling a small child he can hold your loaded handgun with the safety off, but he better not to pull the trigger.
  • What is the magic of 20 feet? – 20 feet okay. 21 feet major safety concern. The truth is all fireworks, based on their inherent nature, are a safety and property damage risk.

What is even more perplexing is that the fireworks law is generally ignored with impunity. Getting the “good” fireworks is a point of pride in most neighborhoods. Other misdemeanor offenses are not treated in such a manner. Take misdemeanor battery, for example. Battery is the unlawful touching of another – i.e. a slap in the face. Most people would expect a visit from Rexburg’s finest if they went around indiscriminately slapping people in the face. However, the Fourth of July norm is the launching of illegal fireworks. It is done proudly in homage to the great country that is the U.S.A. I am as patriotic as the next guy – I mean during the last Olympics I stayed up until 3 in the morning to watch the U.S.A. men’s basketball gold medal game against Spain, even rooting for the undesirable Kobe Bryant in support of our country. Okay maybe that speaks less to my patriotism and more to my sports addiction, but I do love this country we live in, and I do not feel the need to light off a bunch of illegal fireworks to express that sentiment.

My guess is that lighting off fireworks is more about thrill seeking than it is about honoring America. Maybe there is another way to satisfy that desire without breaking the law. Then again, this is coming from someone who gets so excited about avoiding the masses that he fails to realize that the reason there is no one else around is because he is probably missing out on something.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA. The opinions contained are his own and nothing written should be construed as legal advice. Jeff’s practice involves litigation, business disputes, and estate disputes. He can be reached at his Rexburg office, 520 First American Circle, (208) 359-5883, or follow him on Twitter @jeffbrunson.

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