Written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.
Incredibly, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation in 2010 that legalizes the sale of common fireworks in our bone-dry desert state to anyone over the age of 16. The law does not define a minimum age for being in possession of a firework. According to most news sources, the legislation is the direct result of aggressive lobbying by the fireworks industry and passed both houses in spite of bitter opposition from fire fighters across the state. The Governor signed the bill into law touting the benefits of the tax revenues and fees that will accrue to the state. As maddening as these circumstances are, they don’t compare to the outrage we feel by the inevitable losses that will accrue to Arizona families whose children are injured, maimed or criminalized by the misuse of legal fireworks.
Even as fireworks tents are popping up all over the state generating those much needed tax dollars, city after city is BANNING the use of fireworks within their jurisdictions. That means that in many places, eager purchasers of fireworks aged 16 and up will be able to amass arsenals of popping, hot fun, but will not be able to set off their loot without legal repercussion. Great – that’s just what we need -- a new, legal, almost certain way to send more juveniles into the justice system.
There are two problems here. First, the simple ignition of a firework in a banned area will create a punishable offense when kids are caught and cited. Under the new state law, cities, counties and towns can create their own fireworks ordinances and assign their own consequences. The city of Phoenix recently banned the use of fireworks within its city limits making it a Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $2500 and six months in jail. That’s pretty serious -- the kind offense that, like every other no matter how minor, can have long term implications for a juvenile. To date, other Arizona cities have also banned fireworks within their city limits, including Scottsdale, Tempe, Carefree, Cave Creek, Avondale, Goodyear, Tolleson, Chandler, Fountain Hills, El Mirage, Prescott, Kingman and Tucson. Please check with your city or town to verify its position on personal use of legal fireworks.
The second problem is the unintended consequence of setting off the firework. Speaking before the Scottsdale City Council in December to denounce the use of fireworks, Fire Marshall Jim Ford reminded members that a fire started in June by boys shooting off fireworks like the ones that are now legal, caused $130,000 in damages to two houses in south Scottsdale. Arson to an occupied structure (A.R.S. §13-1704) in Arizona is a Class 2 Felony carrying a presumptive penalty of five years in prison. As we all know, even grass fires in our state can have horrible, unforeseen consequences, legal and otherwise. And if a firework is set off too closely to a railroad track, a bridge, a telecommunication pole, a highway or other essential infrastructure, federal charges can apply, even if no damage occurs.
On a lighter note, it’s important to also remember that parents are liable in Arizona for their minor’s negligent or malicious acts. Judges can automatically assign $10,000 in damages to the parent of an offending minor. If the judge thinks the parent can afford more, he or she can assign up to the entire amount of the damages to the parent of the juvenile offender.
Clearly, the legal consequences of a firework offense can be devastating to a child and family but the physical cost of a firework-related injury can be devastating as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, 58% of all fireworks injuries occur each year to people under 25 years of age, and more than 3,500 children under the age of 15 report to emergency rooms with fireworks related injuries. For your children’s protection, both physical and legal, please have a serious discussion about the hazards of fireworks and Arizona’s new laws regarding them. As parents, we want our children to know that fireworks aren’t harmless or legal to use simply because they are legally available for sale.
Your Family and The Law is written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc. for the clients and friends of Davis Miles Law Firm. Teen Law School conducts seminars for teens and parents on the local, state and federal laws that pertain to the activities of typical teenage life. For more information about Teen Law School or to request a seminar in your area, please email email@example.com. Davis Miles attorneys stand ready to represent you or any member of your family in matters that can challenge your liberties and legal rights.