In the United States, fireworks are massively popular when it comes to celebrating holidays like the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. While they are certainly dazzling and are the perfect thing to match the explosive energy these holidays inspire, there are only a few types of fireworks that are legal in New York in certain counties.
While certain kinds of sparkling devices are allowed to be used in New York, any sort of airborne firework remains illegal. Additionally, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2020, there were approximately 15,600 fireworks-related injuries nationwide, with 66 percent of those injuries occurring in a one-month period around the Fourth of July holiday.
With the threat of criminal charges and personal injury, it may be best to leave any pyrotechnic displays to the pros this summer. While this may seem like common sense to some, every year people still ignore firework laws and safety guidelines, which can lead to them suffering the consequences.
So, what do New Yorkers need to know about fireworks when it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July?
What Kinds of Fireworks are Legal and Illegal in New York?
In New York, the only types of fireworks that are legal are “sparkling devices.” Generally, these just generate colored sparks and other displays without making any sort of loud explosion or launching into the air. This includes things like ground spinners, fountains, and sparklers. Additionally, these sparkling devices are among the safest when it comes to burns or other injuries from pyrotechnic devices.
What that means is that devices like firecrackers, roman candles, and skyrockets are illegal in New York State.
Also, it is important to consider what county you are in when it comes to using sparkling devices, since each county has the discretion to permit them or not, even though they may be permitted by state law. This is mostly important for those that live in and around New York City, as in counties such as the Bronx, Nassau, and Westchester, they have banned sparklers (not an exhaustive list, but a sampling of areas).
Additionally, just because sparklers are allowed in some areas but not in others does not mean you can buy them in one country and bring them to a county where they are not. Doing this could result in criminal charges or fines.
Lastly, sparkling devices can’t be purchased year-round. Usually, they are limited to the days leading up to The Fourth of July and New Years Eve.
What Happens if You Get Caught with Fireworks in New York?
If found in possession of less than $50 worth of fireworks, you could be charged with a violation (not a crime) punishable by up to 15 days in jail, a fine, or both. PL 270.00(2)(b)(i).
Those caught selling or offering fireworks—not just for monetary compensation—would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor, which not only leads to a permanent criminal record, but also is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine. PL 270.00(2)(a).
However, if a person is caught furnishing fireworks to someone under the age of 18—the legal age to purchase fireworks in New York—that crime would be bumped up to a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine. PL 270.00(2)(b)(ii).
These punishments can be elevated as well for repeat offenders within five years of the current a current arrest, which could give rise to felony liability.
Outside of the sale of fireworks, setting off illegal fireworks could lead to you be charged with disorderly conduct and/or reckless endangerment, which are felonies. Additionally, setting off fireworks could lead to noise ordinance violations in many towns and cities.
Tips for Using Fireworks Safely
As mentioned earlier, fireworks can be dangerous if not handled properly. While not an exhaustive list, below are a few safety tips to keep in mind while using fireworks this Independence Day:
- Use fireworks in an open area, away from buildings and trees.
- Keep water nearby to cool down or dispose of your sparkling devices.
- Keep a safe distance from other people and wear protective clothing such as long sleeves or gloves to prevent burns.
- Dispose of used fireworks or duds properly. Never seek to relight a dud, and don’t leave them on the ground where they can be a fire hazard.
Celebrate Your Freedom Freely
Fireworks can be beautiful but also dangerous. Any celebration or party can be ruined by an unexpected trip to the emergency room or a criminal charge. The best way to enjoy a safe celebration with lifelong memories is to obey fireworks rules and the hazards they were meant to prevent.
If you’re planning to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and friends, be sure to understand New York’s firework laws to make sure your freedom festivities go off without a hitch.
Peter is the Managing Partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Rochester Office, where he practices criminal defense. With over 30 years of criminal defense experience, Peter has handled thousands of criminal cases, including violations, misdemeanors, felonies, and appeals. He has primarily represented defendants in felony cases in both state and federal courts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (888)-529-4543.