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Independence Day, which we simply call the Fourth of July, is a time to celebrate the founding of the U.S. as an independent nation. The revelry often involves backyard barbecues, cold beer, and fireworks -- probably not what the Founding Fathers envisioned, particularly the use of explosives as entertainment. But even if you're well versed in DUI and alcohol laws, you may not fully grasp the legal implications of lighting fireworks or shooting your gun into the air.
Chances are you will engage in at least one of these activities, if only as a spectator. But before you light that first bottle rocket or reach into the cooler, you owe it to yourself to read the Declaration of Independence. The historic document sowed the seeds for the Constitution when it declared that "all men are created equal," even though the road to equality has been (and continues to be) long and rocky.
So now that you've gotten in touch with your American roots, let's turn our attention to the laws governing the use of fireworks and firearms, and all the ways Americans like to have a blast on the 4th.
First, let's define "fireworks." The federal government prohibits explosives such as M-80s, reloadable mortar shells, cherry bombs, aerial bombs, and anything with more than 50 milligrams of gunpowder. That leaves everything from sparklers to larger rockets that create the "bouquets" of color often seen at professional fireworks shows.
Depending on where you live, you may be limited to only "safe and sane" fireworks, which usually includes fireworks that neither fly nor explode (so no bottle rockets, for example). Different jurisdictions define "safe and sane" differently, but this definition usually includes sparklers, smoke "bombs," "snakes," and ground spinners.
Fireworks laws often impose age requirements and sometimes allow for the seasonal use of fireworks (such as the Fourth of July and New Year's). The American Pyrotechnics Association maintains a color-coded map of state fireworks control laws [PDF] and a state-by-state directory of fireworks laws. As you can see, some states have very few restrictions while others ban all consumer fireworks.
For more about fireworks laws and safety, check our consumer blogs and related Learn About the Law (LATL) content such as:
Maybe you're "old school" and prefer firing off a few rounds from your revolver to mark the occasion. But before you pull the trigger, you should know that many states now consider it a felony offense to discharge firearms randomly into the air. Arizona was among the first states to do so after 14-year-old Shannon Smith died on New Year's Eve in 1999 after being struck by a stray bullet. Other states soon followed the lead of Arizona's so-called Shannon's Law.
Whatever you do this July Fourth, just make sure you honor the Founding Fathers by respecting the laws of our independent nation. Now go have a ... well, you know.