This Fourth of July, feel free to grill as many burgers and drink as many beers as your heart desires. But know that if you decide to partake in one of the most American traditions of all — driving over state lines and returning with a trunk load of fireworks — cops all across the nation will be waiting for you more than ever.
In New York, for example, the crackdown is nearly a decade in the making, with state troopers and highway patrolmen and the good ole NYPD targeting cars with New York license plates as they head toward fireworks shops in Pennsylvania — one of the few states on the East Coast where the explosives are legal to buy and sell — around the big Independence Day push. Then comes the confiscation on the other side, road blocks and all. By July 1 of last year, NYPD officers had arrested 56 individuals, confiscated 12 cars, and made 93 seizures of fireworks. And that was only Sunday. The NYPD stores all its confiscated fireworks in the Bronx, where the bomb squad gets to have all the fun by safely blowing the whole bundle sky-high:
This year police have already busted a few smugglers, including a 20-year-old from Richmond. The would-be entrepreneur planned on selling his goods on the black market for a cool grand, before getting busted by Staten Island's crack squad of firecracker stoppers.
This season's biggest fireworks arrest, however, went down last week in Los Angeles, when former Washington Wizards star and notorious gun owner Gilbert Arenas was pulled over for speeding. That's when police found over 20 boxes of party favors in the bed and cab of his truck, TMZ reported.
Despite a few high profile arrests, the real battle to change the hearts and minds of red-blooded (and, sure, illegal) fireworks users is taking place on the social-media accounts of The Man. Oklahoma City would like everyone to know that fireworks are still banned for those without the proper permits, just like they've been for the last 30 years. The fire department in Dallas posted a notice on their Facebook page and will be closing parks early on Thursday to keep people from getting too crazy with their Roman candles after hours, as they're wont to do. Massachusetts, which also has a ban, thinks fireworks are "best left to the professionals" — as in, not you dangerous Eastern idiots, since, as this handy map via Gizmodo shows, the fireworks bans tend to be concentrated far away from the truly red-blooded parts of the country.... (Red is a full ban; tan is only sparklers or "novelty items," per the American Pyrotechnics Association.)
Still, the stakes are higher in the West and Southwest, where most states are dealing with Moderate to Exceptional levels of drought. With the tragedy of the Yarnell firefighters still fresh in the nation's memory, city and state officials are urging residents to not take their firework festivities into their own hands. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announced Tuesday that all fireworks and campfires would be banned leading up to the Fourth. The state is dealing with fires in both its northern and southern regions and over 285 miles of land have been burned this year.
Still, outside of setting off sparklers in dry, brush filled areas, several people would argue that fireworks are far safer than several perfectly legal items.
Average 3 Americans every year are killed by fireworks, 30,000 by guns. Yet somehow fireworks are highly regulated and illegal in 12 states.— Will Graham (@WillWGraham) July 3, 2013
Freedom! 9000 yearly fireworks injuries prompts states, cities & towns to ban fireworks. 36,000 yearly deaths caused by cars... no ban— LACM (@LosAngelesCM) July 3, 2013
Besides, this is America and there are few things more American than brats, beers, fireworks, and vehemently opposing the regulation of products elected officials think are dangerous.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.