Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

180px-San_Diego_FireworksWe wish you a festive and joyful Independence Day and pose a question to you. Does the use of fireworks constitute protected free speech?

A tradition spanning multiple generations in the United States is that a large portion of our society celebrates and shows tribute to the United States through the lighting and observance of fireworks. Yet numerous municipalities and counties impose sweeping and total bans of fireworks. Some statutes regulate the type of firework allowable, such as those having a ferocity that safety requires certified technicians. Others ban benign devices such as snakes and small fountains.

But does a complete ban on fireworks regardless of size constitute an infringement on the first amendment rights of citizens?

Municipalities having such total bans often provide or at least facilitate public exhibitions of professional fireworks displays. An esoteric argument can be made that such locations may constitute an exclusive free-speech zone permitted by the state whereas the private celebrations and expressions on private property by individuals are not permitted.

The usual argument for fireworks prohibition is that fires result from their usage and the state has an interest in preventing accidents. But can the state argue that the danger is so inherent that all fireworks must be prohibited; thus removing this free speech right?

What do you think?

We offer the following poll and encourage your comments below.


The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

34 thoughts on “Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?”

  1. I often stop and talk to an Indian immigrant who runs my local gas station.

    We have previously discussed Diwali, since I had seen fireworks being shot off at the Hindu temple in Nashville several years back and I was curious.

    Yesterday I asked him if he liked the 4th and he said he did. He was going to take his wife and kids to watch fireworks.

    It would be an interesting 1st Ammendment case if a municipality banned a Hindu temple from shooting off fireworks as part of their religious holiday.

  2. Darren, this is a fabulous headline!

    Jimbo and Ned headed clear down to Mexico from Colorado to get M-80s for the children.

    “With Colorado’s new ban on fireworks, summertime is going to suck. From Season 02 Episode 08, Summer Sucks.”

    This was for the children people, for the children.

  3. Nick and the others

    Welcome to the side of rationality, if only momentarily. See you on the flip side.

  4. Agreeing with Olly. Yes fireworks are free speech. Regulating the danger posed by fireworks is sensible. Wildfires are a big BIG concern in Northern California as well.

    However, the regulations have gone too far, when even the most bland of fireworks are banned. There are always going to be dopes and drunken fools who will harm themselves with fireworks and all sorts of other activities. You can’t regulate stupidity out of existence.

    If burning the American Flag is free speech, then setting off some fireworks to celebrate the American Flag and Independence Day are also free speech.

  5. Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech? Of course not. Neither does lighting Molotov cocktails.

  6. We had a dog that was very sensitive to fireworks and we lived next to the football stadium where the team regularly scored 40 points a games. Shot off fireworks after every score. Our vet got us tranquilizers for the dog. The same for the veteran with PTSD, he could put down several and mellow out.

    I have since moved and have a different dog. New dog does not care one way or the other about fireworks, she is only concerned about cats being in her yard. And we are about a mile from were the town sets off its fireworks. We are closer to the county line where it is free range on fireworks and we have some neighbors who go nuts. I just put my earphones on and continue watching tv.

    Happy 4th of July everybody. Down with the Brits!!!!

  7. Absolutely Karen, I second that. Happy 4th of July and if you haven’t ever done it before, read the Declaration of Independence. Make it a tradition that you read it to you your children and grandchildren at least once a year so they never forget why this day is so special.

    May God bless all of you.

  8. We are not allowed to endanger our neighbors. Free Speech requires responsibility.

  9. Happy 4th of July, everyone. I’m going outside to help my husband harness our team of horses to drive in the parade. Have fun, be safe, and watch out for drunk drivers today.

    And, Nick, I hope your inconsiderate neighbor celebrates elsewhere tonight!

  10. I live in Southern CA, and fire season is usually in the red zone this time of year, even without our drought.

    I grew up with fireworks in the South, but here in CA it’s like lighting a candle while standing on a dry hay stack. The wind blows a spark and you have your next month long raging inferno.

    The limitation also extends to any outdoor fires, and they ban campfires except in certain restricted areas.

    And, still, some maniacal firebug or three will light CA on fire every year. Sometimes the fires start from a car accident.

    I miss the fireworks, but shooting flaming rockets into the sky in tinder dry Southern CA is too dangerous.

  11. Is shooting off fireworks an exercise in free speech, yes. Is regulating the shooting off fireworks an infringement on free speech, no; not on the grounds that you might inadvertently harm yourself but rather someone else. Living here in southern California, we have another concern and that is the possibility of wildfires.

  12. let’s make this simple: no. And btw, no need to reenact our hyper-violent history with fireworks.

  13. Free speech to celebrate the Declaration of Independence Day, which is the Fourth of July, is best spoken when one gets out the family heirloom musket from 1776, loads it with gunpowder, no lead, and goes out on the front porch and fires it in the air. And if a Redcoat is walking by then aim it at him. A sky rocket or string of firecrackers is not a traditional exercise of speech. When those astardBays come for the musket then load it up with powder and lead and speak freely. The Second Amendment was adopted so that when the government gets too oppressive or some King decides to come forward, we can fight for our rights. There is a phony dialogue out there in America that the right to bear arms is only to protect the home from intruders. Not so. It is so we can gather together an armed militia to fight off oppression. And if John McCain seizes power then we will have to drive him out and send him back to Vietnam.

  14. Hey, were you the a-hole blowing off fireworks last night. JUST A JOKE, Steve.

  15. Disturbing the peace. Terrifying dogs and people w/ PTSD. Killing adults and children, blowing off limbs and blinding. Killing people by terrorists in Boston. I admit they offend me, that I am a curmudgeon in this regard. But, a case has been made for sensible regulation. I believe in sensible regulations and have said so many times. Many states had sensible regulations until our obese govt. got hunger pains. A libertarian believes in live and let live. Do as you please, as long as it doesn’t infringe on my rights.

  16. Nick:

    I am struck by how fiercely conservatives defend our rights until their sensibilities are offended – then they become the biggest regulators.

    We need to be consistent; even when inconvenient.

  17. I’m a curmudgeon regarding fireworks. I hate loud noises. They startle me. We have had dogs that are tormented by fireworks. Had a good friend who was a Viet Nam vet w/ PTSD die last year. This was a horrible time of year for him. The NYT had a piece last week on how most states have loosened laws on fireworks. Not because they are kind, but because the sales and high taxes increase revenue. In a great example of journalistic malpractice, the report made no mention of the national security issue. The Boston Bombers made their bombs w/ fireworks purchased @ area fireworks stands.

  18. People, humans, simply don’t know when to stop. Conduct can be free speech but the simple act of lighting a firework is not. The continued cheating of the mean of words and the expansion of concepts until absurd has cheapen and almost destroyed some of our most important rights. It is time to do some rationa analysis not the analysis that allows academic papers to be written and get noticed because they are so counterintuitive or break the mold.

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