Get ready for the fireworks: July 4 is coming
Fireworks have become synonymous with Independence Day, as much a part of the celebrations as flags, barbequing and American pride.
However, as we approach the Fourth of July holiday in lakes country, current restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks are still a matter of contention.
Officials from the Becker County Sheriff’s Office are reminding residents and visitors about Minnesota laws concerning the sale, possession and use of fireworks within the state.
“When I’m out working, I can see what’s the right ones, and what’s not,” said Sergeant Todd Glander with the Becker County Sheriff’s Office.
Under current state law, both aerial and explosive fireworks are banned. The list includes several popular varieties including firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles. Reloadable aerial shells, parachutes and ladyfingers have also made the list.
And it’s not just the type, but the location that can land celebrators in hot water.
“Any public parking lot or sidewalk is not legal,” Glander said about the lighting off of even legal fireworks in the state.
During the week of the Fourth, especially, officers are on the lookout all around lakes country for people in violation of state and county laws regarding fireworks.
Penalties for breaking these laws range from a warning and confiscation of fireworks, all the way up to jail time and fines in the thousands of dollars, Glander said.
He added that the severity of the punishment is dependent upon the amount of illegal fireworks in possession, and is oftentimes “up to the discretion of the officer.”
The holiday weekend is the busiest time for violations. There will be an increased presence from both the sheriff’s office and local police to help deal with added incidents over the holiday weekend. This mainly involves keeping people safe on area roads, but officers are also on the lookout for illegal fireworks use.
“We get a lot of complaints,” Glander said, adding that they “handle them as they come.”
He also said that they see a lot of contraband fireworks coming in from out of state. While not wanting to place the blame entirely on our neighbors to the west, he did say that “we see most of them come from North Dakota.”
Special permits for putting on fireworks displays are available through the county auditor, with the sheriff’s office signing off. Permits need to be filed at least 15 days in advance of planned fireworks use.
Many of these permits are filed by cities and local lake associations to put on professional fireworks displays.
Those displays, Glander said, might be the best bet for people hoping to enjoy some entertainment this Fourth of July.
For those who want to enjoy fireworks in their own backyards, Minnesota does allow certain types for personal use.
These include fountains, sparklers and novelty items such as snakes, smoke bombs and party poppers.
Glander said the laws are meant to help keep people and property safe. However, the restrictions in place are not without their share of dissenters
Kevin and Ann McIntyre, whose family has been running the TNT Fireworks stand out of the Detroit Lakes Walmart’s parking lot for the last five years, say their business is limited by current Minnesota laws.
“We would love to sell what they’re bringing in illegally from North Dakota,” Kevin said.
At their stand, they are limited to the sale of only those fireworks approved by the state.
“Nothing that leaves the ground,” Kevin said, adding that even recently popular floating, lighted lanterns are illegal.
The “Sky Lanterns” or “Celebration Lanterns,” often released simultaneously in large numbers, are not legal in Minnesota, The State Fire Marshal cites fire and safety threats to property, nature and livestock as reasons for the ban.
Proceeds from the McIntyre’s stand go to help Literacy for All, a nonprofit group. And Kevin said they could be making a lot more to donate to the organization.
In 2012, a piece of legislation which would have expanded the variety of fireworks allowed in Minnesota did not gain enough votes in the state’s Senate to override a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton.
If it had passed, Kevin said, the resulting increase in the products they would have been able to offer would have greatly boosted their sales. He was in support of that legislation and the added tax revenue it would have likely brought to the state.
Regardless of differing opinions on the laws, adherence to state and local ordinances as well as attention safety are the main priorities.
“Ask at wherever you’re staying,” said Ann McIntyre, adding that different locations have different rules.
Laws regarding the sale, possession and use of fireworks vary by state, county and city, so it’s always best to check before you buy, transport or use any firework.
And, as always, pay attention to potential hazards and use common sense while celebrating our nation this holiday weekend.
“We hope people stay safe,” Glander said.