For far too long, pyrotechnic-inclined Pennsylvanians could not properly celebrate the Fourth of July.
In a sad irony, the holiday synonymous with freedom was so tightly restrained by an archaic and downright silly state law that some residents were not free to mark the occasion how they wanted.
But finally, though a few decades too late, the state Legislature last fall repealed and replaced the Fireworks Act of 1939 and now Pennsylvanians can enjoy Independence Day independent of Nanny State rules.
As our story pointed out last week, the previous law limited in-state residents to purchasing ground-based fireworks, such as sparklers, sparkle fountains or smoke bombs, which don’t make for much of a display.
Now, the really ridiculous part about the old law: If you lived in Pennsylvania, higher-octane fireworks were strictly off-limits unless you went through a burdensome process of applying for a permit through your municipality. But if you lived in another state, you could buy all the aerial fireworks you wanted in Pa., as long as you agreed to leave the state with those products.
Repeat: Companies doing business in Pennsylvania could not sell certain items to Pennsylvania residents.
That inane rule is now a thing of the past, thankfully.
But many folks still aren’t aware of this newfound freedom, according to Kevin Shaub, owner of Keystone Fireworks. Keystone just opened a new store on Carey Avenue in Hanover Township.
“People call our store all day long and say, ‘I heard a rumor that the law has changed, it is true?’” Shaub told the Times Leader last week. “It’s almost like things were so strict in Pennsylvania for so long, that people refuse to believe that they can just walk in a store now and buy what they want.”
The law change has Keystone opening “superstores in places we normally wouldn’t have,” said Shaub, instead of near state lines to cater to non-Pa. customers.
People might also be confused about what exactly they can buy now, and there remains some important distinctions.
Without getting too technical, residents are now allowed to buy consumer-grade fireworks. In layman’s terms, it’s some of the stuff that shoots into the air and produces some pretty colors.
According to wholesaler Jake’s Fireworks, state residents can now buy Roman candles, aerial cakes, artillery shells, firecrackers, bottle rockets and a whole lot more.
But things like M-80s, cherry bombs and quarter sticks are still banned. So don’t ask for them.
“Those are not consumer fireworks. Those are explosives,” Eric Wilson, of Phantom Fireworks, told The Morning Call of Allentown.
Oh, and if you plan to stock up for next week’s holiday, get your wallet ready.
From what we saw online, some of these advanced pyrotechnics can get expensive. (Pocono Fireworks was offering via Twitter a 46-shot aerial repeater for about $40, and Keystone was offering the massive-shot “Howitzer” for $180.)
Don’t forget to tack on the typical 6 percent sales tax plus another 12 percent levied specifically on fireworks that the state is collecting to make grants to EMS units and fire departments.
But if you can afford it and if you like things that go “boom” in the night, we would encourage you to take advantage of this new freedom for the Fourth.
Just follow the rules and always keep safety in mind — don’t discharge anything within 150 feet of an occupied structure or on private property without the owner’s permission. And, of course, no one under the influence should ever have anything to do with setting off fireworks.
— Times Leader