The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Are Fireworks Illegal? 

It seems like a pretty simple yes or no question doesn't it? Are they illegal or aren't they? However, in the state of Wisconsin at least, the answer is a lot more complicated. After doing a little research, I found some brochures and articles that made things a little more clear, though not much. The Wisconsin DNR has a Brochure (PDF) available that would seem to make things very clear. But after examining the actual laws themselves, it's not quite as cut and dry as one would imagine as this Op Ed piece from a few years ago reveals. It makes it especially confusing when you drive up and down the state highways seeing larger buildings advertising all manner and sizes of fireworks for sale to everyone. This year during before the 4th of July, there were many commercials on TV as well. If they're illegal to fire, how can they be sold?

If it sounds complicated, it's because it is. Some say the state law controlling fireworks is confusing by design.

Beginning in 1984, Wisconsin Statute 167.10 regulating the sale, possession and use of fireworks has been liberalized to allow more kinds of fireworks to be sold. Critics say the law also has been watered down to make it more difficult to enforce.
The Cornellier store will sell exploding and flying fireworks to Wisconsin residents, too, but they must first pay a $2 fee to join the Wisconsin Pyrotechnics Safety Association.

The membership application form lists eight sites in the state where members can legally use fireworks on the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The association presumably has permits signed by local town chairmen allowing members to use the sites on those dates.

The application form also has a blank fireworks users permit on it. Customers who want to use their fireworks at home are told they must obtain the signature of their mayor, village president or town chairman.

There's the catch. You can buy them if you get a permit later. The not so funny part is that state law specifically prohibits a mayor from issuing a permit to an individual. Only civic organizations are allowed to receive permits. Moreover, there is doubt in state courts as to whether being a member of an Pyrotechnics Association that would be allowed to use fireworks makes it legal for you as an individual to buy them.

So why all the confusion? Why doesn't the legislature simply ban fireworks? Well that's simple. People like to fire them. The problem is that there are a lot of people in government who don't want to see you get hurt, and think it's there responsibility to stop it. They want to nanny you... they just don't want you to know that they want to nanny you. So they pass laws that actually make you a criminal, but in such a way that you don't know it. If the newspapers had a headline that said: "Proposed Law to Completely Ban Fireworks" the legislature would be bogged down with letters and phone calls. But this way, they can slowly sneak these regulations, and confusing laws under the radar. The question that needs to be asked is: Is this democratic? If the majority of people oppose a law being passed, should it be passed? If the legislature can't pass a law on its own merits, should the try to pass it in a subversive way? Fireworks are really a trivial example. How about gun laws, gambling laws (more on those in a later post), or smoking laws? It happens all the time and we don't even know it.


We have a similar situation here in Florida. Instead of paying $2 for an association, you are required to sign a waiver stating that you are using the fireworks for agricultural purposes. The presumption is that you need to scare birds away from your crops.

In Texas we used scarecrows. ;)

  Posted at July 08, 2004 9:47 AM by Blogger Seth  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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