Celebrating the Fourth of July in style? Here are the NC fireworks laws you need to know

By Grant Lefelar

Raleigh, NC – America’s 246th birthday is just around the corner!

Like every year, many Americans will take the day off work this coming Tuesday, don red, white, and blue, and likely overindulge their appetite at their neighborhood cookout.

(Source: ncosfm.gov)

When nighttime falls and the scorching July sun goes down, Americans will not go home and call it a day. Instead, they look up to witness nearly every imaginable color explode with a fiery boom in the sky. Fourth of July fireworks, are a summertime tradition just as American as Shark Week, the Daytona 500, and going to the movies to catch the latest blockbuster.

However, not everyone who wishes to take part in launching celebratory fireworks can. In the United States, pyrotechnic regulations vary from state to state, meaning who can use fireworks and what kinds they can use sometimes change dramatically just by crossing state borders.

Current North Carolina fireworks laws are among the strictest in the nation, with the Tarheel State banning non-licensed individuals from purchasing and using aerial and explosive consumer fireworks. However, N.C. does allow the sale and use of other, less explosive forms of pyrotechnics.

So, if you plan to add some spark and some bang to your Fourth of July festivities, here are the fireworks laws you need to know so you don’t run afoul of state authorities.

Current NC pyrotechnic laws

When figuring out what kinds of pyrotechnics are allowed in N.C. for private civilian use, a good rule of thumb is that any type that explodes while leaving the ground is illegal.

A general, though not comprehensive, list of pyrotechnics banned for commercial purchase in North Carolina are:

  • Aerial fireworks
  • Firecrackers
  • Roman candles
  • Bottle rockets
  • Ground spinners

However, pyrotechnics that do not leave the ground or explore are explicitly named in state law as being legal for purchase and use, such as:

  • Sparklers
  • Smoke devices
  • Party poppers
  • Snappers
  • Snake/glow worms

N.C. prohibits the sale of these legal pyrotechnics to persons under 16 years of age.

The state allows otherwise restricted pyrotechnics for major events, such as concerts or sanctioned fireworks shows. However, individuals in charge of those displays must be licensed and approved by the state.

Those found in violation of the state’s fireworks regulations may find themselves liable for a $500 fine and up to six months in jail, depending on the severity.

NC compared to neighboring states

North Carolina is a member of a minority of states that disallows the sale and use of consumer fireworks. 18 other states, including neighboring Virginia, have similar or stricter fireworks laws. Ironically, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the American Revolution, bans the sale of all forms of consumer fireworks.

Other neighboring states, such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, have comparatively lenient pyrotechnic laws.

South Carolina’s lax rules regulating pyrotechnics have made the state a destination for pyrophiles in the Tarheel State. The South Carolina side of the state border is littered with fireworks stores, catering to fireworks lovers on both sides of the state line. The Office of the State Fire Marshal is the pyrotechnic permitting agency in NC. State Fire Marshal and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey says bringing fireworks from another state across state lines is illegal.

“It is actually a federal crime to transport fireworks into a state knowing that such fireworks are to be delivered, possessed, stored, transshipped, distributed, sold, or otherwise dealt with in a manner or for a use prohibited by the laws of such state specifically prohibiting or regulating the use of fireworks,” said Causey in a statement. “So, for example, if you buy Roman candles in South Carolina, you cannot bring them into North Carolina.” 

Coming changes to NC fireworks laws?

Significant changes to N.C.’s current fireworks laws may just be on the horizon.

In April, a group of Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that expands the sale and use of fireworks and other pyrotechnics in the state.

If passed, Senate Bill 470, entitled the “NC Consumer Fireworks Safety Act,” will allow for “the sale, use, transport, possession, handling, or discharge of consumer fireworks.”

Private citizens over 18 will be allowed to purchase pyrotechnics for recreational use. Pyrotechnics legalized under the bill include currently outlawed aerial fireworks and other explosives.

Prospective fireworks merchants must be over 21 and apply for a $5,000 vendor permit with annual renewal fees of $2,500. The state would also levy fireworks a 5% excise tax for the cost of fireworks sold.

Strict state regulations would apply to the sale and use of fireworks. If found violating state laws, vendors risk paying up to $10,000 in fines.

Individuals will not be permitted to use pyrotechnics during late night, overnight, and early morning hours, except on holidays.

However, the bill has yet to see progress in the General Assembly since its April filing, meaning North Carolinians will likely have to wait till after next year’s Fourth celebrations to see any changes.

Nonetheless, the bill shows the willingness of some state lawmakers to widen which pyrotechnics are allowed.

Fireworks shows in celebration of the Fourth of July will be held across the state over the long weekend. Locations and times of government-sanctioned fireworks shows can be found on the VisitNC website.

The N.C. State Fire Marshal’s office says around 150 people go to emergency rooms for fireworks injuries in North Carolina each year, with children under age five accounting for half of them. If you plan to use pyrotechnics this Tuesday to celebrate our country’s independence, please check out these safety tips.

Grant Lefelar is a student intern for Carolina Journal. He is studying Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and serves as president of the Carolina Liberty Foundation.