Scripps News Life

Despite high numbers of calls, citations regarding fireworks remain low

A lot of fireworks displays take place in people’s backyards — and a lot of the time, they take place illegally.
Fireworks burst on the National Mall above the Lincoln Memorial
Posted at 7:02 PM, Jul 03, 2024

The Fourth of July is a holiday when our bodies are saturated with barbecue and our social media feeds are littered with what feels like the same video of fireworks displays.

A lot of those displays take place in people’s backyards, and a lot of the time, they take place illegally.

It’s quite the issue for police departments across the country as they field a large number of complaints that often result in little action.

In the United States, there is only one state — Massachusetts — that bans the sale of fireworks across the board. In the other 49 states, there are varying degrees of legislation. It can create confusion for local police departments as well as residents, but for those stores that capitalize on the craziness — it can create a nice payday.

Business at Artillery World Fireworks in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been exploding over the last few weeks. Because it's been so busy, Scripps News spoke with employee Haley Nye instead of her boss, Pete. He was sleeping, since the two were up until 4 a.m. doing business the night before our interview.

"It’s been insane. We’ve had lines from our front registers going all the way into this building, pretty much," said Nye.

It won’t come as a surprise that fireworks stores do well this time of year. But what might catch your attention is the fact that most of the business that comes into their store isn’t from people who live in Wyoming.

Forty-nine states allow some degree of fireworks in the U.S., according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, but the regulations surrounding them vary from state to state.

Related story: More consumers expected to purchase fireworks this July 4 as prices drop

Wyoming, for example, has few restrictions on fireworks — they can be purchased year-round — but neighboring Colorado has more restrictions, as aerial and explosive fireworks are prohibited.

It’s why people come to this fireworks compound in the middle of nowhere in droves.

It's great for these shops, but a headache for police departments in the places where these explosive displays aren’t offered to the everyday person.

Jay Casillas is with the Denver Police Department. In 2023, his department was called 1,930 times about fireworks in the three weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, but officers only handed out four citations.

"Fireworks are just dangerous, and unfortunately, we’ve had people become injured by them," said Casillas.

Similar situations play out nationally, as Casillas says police are bogged down with higher-priority calls, and people don’t want to ruffle feathers. A public complaint needs to be signed by the caller in order for a ticket to be issued. Add on that evidence is typically scarce, and it leads to one ticket for every 500 calls.

"They can just cause more injuries and unfortunately people don’t use them the way they’re intended, and that’s where that issue comes in," he said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a report in late June stating “between 2008 and 2023, injuries from fireworks have increased overall” with numbers peaking during the pandemic. The demographic that had the highest number of ER visits was teens ages 15 to 19, with kids 5-9 right behind them.