2012-07-05 / Local & State

Pennsylvania Fireworks Law Questioned

READING, Pa. (AP) Since time immemorial Pennsylvanians have struggled to comprehend some of the wacky laws enacted by the Legislature.

It is illegal, for example, to open a billiards room on Sundays or to charge people to tell their fortunes by feeling the bumps on their head. Then there’s the absurd system we created to sell alcoholic beverages from a variety of locations depending on the beverage type, the quantity and alcoholic content.

But no Pennsylvania law strains the bounds of common sense like the state fireworks law.

“It’s a goofy thing,’’ said Brian Gerhart, manager of the Keystone Fireworks store in Lancaster. “It’s a Catch-22.’’

In short, the law allows Pennsylvanians to buy only sparklers, sparkle fountains and smoke bombs, but nothing that explodes or propels itself or a projectile into the air.

However, people from other states can come into Gerhart’s store and buy all of the rockets, exploding projectiles and other, more powerful fireworks they want – as long as they agree to leave the state with the merchandise.

The law does allow Pennsylvanians to display fireworks if they get a permit from officials in the municipality where the fireworks will be set off.

To get a permit, you have to have the local fire chief inspect and approve the area where you plan to use the fireworks and post a bond of at least $500 to cover any damage or injuries that might occur.

“You have to leave Pennsylvania to buy the good stuff,’’ Gerhart said. “We wish we could sell it to Pennsylvanians. We feel bad when people ask us why they can’t buy fireworks. But we don’t make the law.’’

Customers have to show a state-issued ID card when they enter the store. Out-of-state residents have the run of the store and all its merchandise.

Pennsylvania residents are escorted to an area of the store that features only the tamer merchandise.

As Democratic chairman of the state House Judiciary Committee, Reading state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone said he has seen his share of laws that might have made sense when they were enacted but seem zany now.

Caltagirone joined an effort several years ago to strike down antiquated laws, one regulated the times that gas street lamps were required to be lighted and turned off.

Currently, he said, he was not aware of any efforts to change the way fireworks are sold in the state.

Meanwhile, the American Pyrotechnic Association, the trade group that represents licensed fireworks dealers, reports that since 2000, fireworks laws have been amended or relaxed in 10 states.

Since 1980, fireworks sales have risen dramatically from about 41 million pounds to more than 200 million pounds.

“With the liberalization of consumer fireworks laws and record-breaking backyard fireworks usage, the number of fireworks related injuries and fires has dramatically declined,’’ said Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the association.

Heckman said fireworks-related injuries are down from 2000, when the trend in relaxing consumer fireworks laws started.

Fireworks and explosives actually are covered in the state Crimes Code, Chief County Detective Michael J. Gombar said.

Despite the convoluted nature of the state fireworks law, or perhaps because of it, arrests for violations of the fireworks law and prosecutions of offenders are rare, he said.

The actual enforcement of the law is left to local police departments.

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