Friday, July 1, 2011

Fireworks - Lighting Up New Relationships between the States

Photo: The Pocono Record
(This is a re-post of a Mutant Mouse Commentary written on 2/2/2007. The post has been edited and  photographs  added to the post)

Sometimes Politicians write laws with loopholes on purpose. A campaign contributor needs a 40 million dollar tax break and it gets tacked on as a rider or amendment. Sometimes it is a matter of log-rolling, that ancient tradition of support my legislation and I will support your legislation. But sometimes a loophole appears in a law completely by accident and a clever businessman with a ton of cash and a cargo plane full of lobbyists seizes the opportunity.

Here in Pennsylvania, it is the expressly forbidden for citizens of the Commonwealth to purchase fireworks. Can't get them here. We have to drive to South Carolina to shoot off our bottle rockets in gleeful terror. But the law never mentioned someone from say, New Jersey or New York buying fireworks in Pennsylvania. And some very clever business folks saw a loophole and drove an 18-wheeler full of roman candles right through it.

Fireworks stores are now opening along all the borders of Pennsylvania, catering to a target consumer- Non Pennsylvanians. Security personnel wait at the fireworks entrance, checking driver's licences and, if you have one from Pennsylvania- get out and don't come back. These stores weren't built for you.

Our neighboring states, some who have laws that expressly forbid their own citizens to be in possession of fireworks are not happy with Pennsylvania's loophole. Mayor Bloomberg has even sent undercover agents into Pennsylvania to investigate and then arrest (after the consumer is safely back in New York City) those folks with their trunks stuffed full of black cats. Other states have been grumbling.

I like fireworks. Once we had Waterbunny use her Texas Drivers license to get us some fireworks. Didn't blow up a finger or lose an eye shooting them off either. We did send a few over the the neighbor's shed. Fireworks are not very accurate. However, they do have important warning labels. "Place in a safe location. Light fuse, Get away!" Yes, you must run away! Run away from this very safe explosive device!

I've read the statistics that the fireworks industry puts out about sales versus injuries. There were less than 10,000 injuries in 2004 according to the American Pyrotechnics Industry (APA) compared to sales of 236 million pounds of fun time explosives. Did you know that with every extra pound sold, the number of injuries decreases! It must be those warning labels. Or the label that says "Made in China". There is a quality guarantee you can't ignore.

The APA points out that you are four times more likely to get burned by your stove in the kitchen than from lighting a Class 3 explosive. Of course, we need to eat in order to live, so using a stove is more of a necessity than the unbridled joy of sticking a match under a short fuse and running like hell. But I quibble here. Whenever an organization represents an industry, we should always, yes always take their word at face value. The Tobacco industry is a fine example of this.

We either have friends in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia or we are going to be making new friends there soon. It shouldn't be long before our neighbors on the border charge user fees for proxy sales, under the table, between Pennsy buyer and non-Pennsy seller. A whole new black market could emerge. Homeland Security Department will catch wind of this think we are terrorists. Investigations will begin, internet mail intercepted, phone calls monitored and then..... day I will be shooting off some fireworks I bought from Vinnie the Anvil. The FBI will kick down my door and drag me off to some secret prison. I won't have a lawyer, I won't have my cell phone. I won't have my bottle rockets. The world will be a safer place.

We could fix this. Close the loophole. Make them illegal for everyone in Pennsylvania or make them legal for everyone in Pennsylvania. We will buy them anyway and all we are doing now, in-Staters and out-of-Staters, is putting tons of money into a few corporate bank accounts. A law written specifically to make the purchase and possession of fireworks illegal in Pennsylvania is now benefiting a handful of corporations and thousands of non-residents.

Well, I'm off to Jersey to enjoy something that only Pennsylvanians can do: Turn around and drive back. Happy Independence Day!

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