Legalizing firecrackers

PHOENIX — Arizonans could soon get the chance to blow stuff up to celebrate Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.

And they also could light up some kinds of aerial fireworks.

Members of the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety agreed Thursday to make firecrackers and keg mortars legal in Arizona.

The 4-2 vote for HB 2398 came six years after Arizona first made sparklers and other similar “safe and sane” devices legal for the first time. It also comes six years after Mike Williams told lawmakers that his client, TNT Fireworks, would be satisfied with that change.

But Williams, saying Thursday he’s only speaking now for retailers, said that things have changed in that time.

“We’ve looked at things that have gone on in other states,”’ he said.

“New Mexico sells these,” Williams said. “And we haven’t had any issues.”

The vote came over the objections of Jim Ford, deputy fire marshal for the city of Scottsdale and a member of the state Fire Safety Committee.

Ford said the 2010 law was the product of a carefully negotiated deal designed to balance the desire of some Arizonans for some more expressive ways of celebrating with the chances that these devices could end up burning up large swaths of forests and preserves.

“We can handle what we’ve been given so far,” Ford told lawmakers. But he said expanding what’s allowable is likely to lead to more accidents and more fires.

Williams, however, said there is no evidence of any fires that have been started by what was made legal in 2010.

Current law limits Arizonans to things like sparklers, smoke snakes, fountains and ground spinners. Anything that blows up or launches is strictly prohibited.

Williams said this is opening the door just a little bit more.

He said the only exploding devices that would be allowed are firecrackers that have only a limited amount of gunpowder. He said bigger devices like M-80s remain illegal under federal law.

As to the sky displays, Williams described the keg mortars as loaded with multiple small charges that shoot up to 100 feet into the air.

And Williams told lawmakers that, in approving the sale of things like this, it might actually make Arizona safer.

“You will see fireworks going up in the air on the Fourth of July because people will buy them from another state and they will transport them here,” he said. “We tend to find if you give them a small amount of fireworks or a lesser amount, people tend to be satisfied with those.”

And Williams minimized the danger to individuals.

“During the month of July, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there are more children seen in an emergency room due to pencils than there are for all fireworks combined,” he said, both legal and illegal. Ditto, he said, for injuries from riding bicycles and playing baseball.

“And just one last statistic: Brake pads and ATVs start more fires than all fireworks combined,” Williams said.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, who sponsored the legislation, put a patriotic spin on the measure, invoking the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner and its reference to “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”

“We’ve had these fireworks all our lives, part of our national anthem,” he said, calling it “the sound of freedom.”

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