In Florida, exploding fireworks — from firecrackers up to massive, professional-grade rockets that can fire off multiple rounds of sky-filling pyrotechnics — are illegal.
It says so, right there in Florida Statute Chapter 791. Roman candles. Bottle rockets. Torpedos. Illegal to sell. Illegal to shoot off.
So certainly, a Florida resident can’t pull up to a storefront or parking-lot tent and walk out with several hundred dollars’ worth of boxes emblazoned with names like “Crack the Sky,” “The Iron Throne,” “Saturn Missile Battery” or “Instant Thunder.” Not in Florida. Nope.
As anyone with functional ears can testify, that law doesn’t reflect reality. Some say the booms, cracks and whistles of explosive pyrotechnics already are rattling their windows, terrifying their dogs and triggering symptoms of post-traumatic stress in veterans. The noisy displays will probably reach a crescendo in a few weeks’ time, on July 4 — but fireworks are also becoming popular on other occasions.
The reality is that fireworks are available within a short drive in almost every Florida community. All a buyer has to do is sign a piece of paper saying they are familiar with Florida law — which contains a loophole for anyone running a sporting organization or veterans’ group that’s planning a ceremony, or farmers who need fireworks to scare birds away from a fishery or “agricultural work.” You also can make the short trip to Alabama.
After that, it’s only a matter of whether the credit card charge will go through.
Law enforcement officials in most Florida jurisdictions have given up on enforcing the ban. There are just too many violators. People who call to complain about illegal fireworks are usually told that, unless the fireworks are being used in an obviously dangerous manner — for example, aerial fireworks shot toward nearby buildings, instead of being aimed at the sky — an officer won’t respond.
As a result, vast numbers of Floridians celebrate their nation’s birthday by breaking the law. The resulting barrage can disturb sensitive bird rookeries or nesting sea turtles, leave drifts of debris in public space, start fires, and injure — sometime kill — the users or bystanders.
This is madness. It’s high time Florida lawmakers made up their minds: Are consumer sales and use of fireworks legal, or not?
There are good arguments on both sides. Industry officials say today’s fireworks are safer, and come with better instructions. Certainly, the fireworks industry supports hundreds of jobs across Florida, and legalizing them could allow for more thoughtful, realistic rules about safety, times when they can be deployed and restrictions on size and power.
At the same time, it’s obvious that fireworks are dangerous. And — particularly veterans and owners of dogs with sensitive ears — have come to dread the weeks before our nation’s celebration of independence.
One way or another, Florida lawmakers should decide. Operating an entire industry through a narrow loophole makes no sense.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.