Written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.  ©2011 Teen Law School, Inc.

Last year, Governor Brewer signed a law allowing 16 year olds to purchase fireworks legally anywhere in our bone-dry desert state.  Almost immediately, citing fire hazards and public safety concerns, nearly every municipality in Maricopa County and many around the state began banning the use of fireworks in their jurisdictions.  This year, citing the loss of sales tax revenues, the legislature passed another bill which would have banned cities from banning fireworks.  Wisely, Governor Brewer vetoed that bill, reaffirming her belief that local authorities have to right to restrict fireworks.  

There is bad news for our teens in this story, because now Arizona kids over 16 can legally purchase arsenals of poppin’ hot fun but can’t set off their loot without legal repercussion in most cities in the state.   The last thing our well intentioned kids need is another way to come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

There are two problems here.  First, most kids and parents don’t know that fireworks bans exist, yet the simple ignition of a firework in a banned area can 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.  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 the 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. 

On a lighter note, it’s important to 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 or, if they feel the parent can afford more, can assign 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 fireworks 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 reported 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.  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 seminars or to register your teen, please visit www.teenlawschool.com or email   info@teenlawschool.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.