Right around this time each year, Minnesotans head to temporary tent stores around the state (um, and some border states) to buy fireworks. Celebrating the Fourth of July without fireworks almost seems unpatriotic, or, at a minimum, un-fun. What could be more American than watching hundreds or even thousands of your hard-earned dollars going up in a dazzling flurry of purple, yellow and red sparks?
But each year, Minnesotans (mostly males I think), ask the question: What’s legal in Minnesota this year? The follow up questions is: Did Governor Dayton veto another bill that would have made Minnesota like border states that allow “fun” fireworks?
“Fireworks” are Not Legal In Minnesota
One thing is certain: fireworks are not legal for normal, unlicensed people to use in Minnesota. Ok, some of you just began to question my credibility as a Minnesota lawyer. That’s because you have seen many white tents in grocery store parking lots advertising (and selling) lots of things that start on fire and spew smoke when ignited. And you thought those were fireworks. So how do we reconcile my assertion that they’re illegal with your personal experience, which suggests otherwise. (And in case you were wondering, the actual ban on “fireworks” is found at Minn. Stat. § 624.21 (2017)).
But What Are “Fireworks”?
Well, you may have been ahead of me on this, but the question is really this: What is a “firework” under Minnesota law? Well, Minnesota law defines the word “fireworks” somewhat differently than most logical, rational people do. Specifically, section 624.20, subdivision 1(a) of the Minnesota Statutes defines fireworks as, well, basically “anything that blows up on the ground or in the sky, or essentially anything that burns.” Ok, that’s not a real quote from the statute, but it is a real quote of me paraphrasing the statute. (If I put the actual quote from the statute in this blog, you would have stopped reading it because it contains so many commas and clauses that it is almost unintelligible.) Suffice it to say that the term “fireworks” in Minnesota is defined to include all of the stuff you are not allowed to buy and use in your backyard, at least not unless you have a license to do so (and almost no one does).
So you may still be wondering–if “fireworks” includes almost anything that burns to produce “a visible or an audible effect by combustion” (that is actually in the statute)–how can these tents be set up across our great state selling these so-called “fireworks” to unsuspecting Minnesotans.
Well, the things sold in the white tents are allowed because they are not technically “fireworks,” at least according to the State of Minnesota. That’s because (as legislatures are known to do), the Minnesota legislature decided to exclude certain things from the very, very broad definition of “fireworks” (which, by the way, could actually almost be read so broadly as to include things like cigarette lighters, but I digress). So, the exclusions from the “fireworks” definition allow Minnesotans to use certain things that do actually burn or explode (sort of), but that are not considered “fireworks.”
So what’s allowed? Well, the list includes . . . um, well . . . cap guns. Yes, it’s true, cap guns are the first exclusion. But the more pertinent non-fireworks (at least for this discussion) are the following:
- “wire or wood sparklers of not more than 100 grams of mixture per item,”
- “other sparkling items which are nonexplosive and nonaerial and contain 75 grams or less of chemical mixture per tube or a total of 500 grams or less for multiple tubes,”
- “snakes and glow worms,”
- “smoke devices,”
- “trick noisemakers which include paper streamers, party poppers, string poppers, snappers, and drop pops, each consisting of not more than twenty-five hundredths grains of explosive mixture.”
Ok, that last one is probably not something you’d buy for the Fourth, but it’s in there. So now you know.
It’s Still a Crime
Oh, and if you were considering igniting a “firework” (or worse yet, an “explosive firework”), you procured from one of Minnesota’s border states (which shall remain nameless), you are also probably just slightly curious about the type of deterrent Minnesota has established for this sort of offense. The applicable statute reads as follows:
Any person violating the provisions of sections 624.20 to 624.24 may be sentenced as follows:
(1) if the violation involves explosive fireworks in an amount of 35 pounds gross container weight or more, to imprisonment for not more than one year, or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both;
(2) if the violation involves explosive fireworks in an amount of less than 35 pounds gross container weight, to imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or to payment of a fine of not more than $1,000, or both; and
(3) if the violation involves any amount of fireworks other than explosive fireworks, to imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or to payment of a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.
Minn. Stat. §624.25 (2017). I only highlighted paragraph 3 because that’s where most of you will fall. And in case you were wondering, that paragraph 3 is a full misdemeanor (not just a petty misdemeanor like most speeding tickets).
Changes in the Law? Not Yet.
And while Minnesota’s House of Representatives has been pretty consistent in its recent efforts to allow the sale of actual “fireworks” in Minnesota, the Senate and Governor Dayton were not fans. Governor Dayton vetoed the legislation in 2012 and it hasn’t made another trip to his desk since then.
So be safe, keep a safe distance from those glow worms, and have a Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota.