The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News-Gazette.
What kinds of fireworks are legal in Illinois? Is it legal to bring fireworks into Illinois from Indiana?
There are no kinds of fireworks that are legal in Illinois. The only "fireworks" that are legal aren't fireworks, and even those can be outlawed locally.
Fireworks are regulated on three different levels: federal, state, and local. What is legal depends on where you are.
Regulations generally aim to protect the public health and safety. Since they are so dangerous, fireworks are heavily regulated.
Federal law classifies most fireworks as “banned hazardous substances.” That federal law, which started out as the Child Protection Act, specifically bans M-80s and cherry bombs, along with any firecrackers with more than 50 milligrams of “pyrotechnic composition.” That law says they’re banned because “the public health and safety can be served only by keeping such articles out of interstate commerce.”
So, federal law bans a big chunk of all fireworks. States are then free to ban what’s left.
The Pyrotechnic Use Act ("PUA") in Illinois bans the sale, possession, and use of all “consumer fireworks.” That’s the stuff you can buy legally in some states, like firecrackers, bottle rockets, and roman candles. Violating the PUA can result in up to 1 year in prison and a $2500 fine.
The PUA specifically says that certain things are not consumer fireworks and are therefore legal. The list of what’s legal includes:
- Some small-cap guns
- Snake or glow worm pellets
- Smoke devices
- Trick noisemakers (known as party poppers)
- Booby traps
- Trick matches
- Cigarette loads
- Auto burglar alarms
Careful with those smoke devices, though. Federal law prohibits cherry bomb look-alikes.
Finally, local ordinances can add a third level of regulation on top of the federal and Illinois laws. The small number of fireworks that is still legal after the federal and state bans can be banned too.
For example, Urbana’s website claims that “any items which must be ignited by a match are prohibited in the city limits.” But its actual ordinance just bans the sale or use of sparklers on city-owned property, and otherwise says that “the sale or use of [sparklers] shall be permitted.”
Indiana’s fireworks laws are very similar to Illinois. It’s a mystery how they get away with selling fireworks over there. But they do, so the Hoosiers must have figured out a loophole.
Since it’s illegal to possess fireworks in Illinois, what may be legal in Indiana becomes illegal when you enter Illinois. And on top of the state penalties for using or having fireworks in Illinois, it’s a federal offense to cross state lines with them. That could get you a 1-year prison sentence, in the unlikely event that the U.S. Attorney chose to prosecute.
The really big stuff like cherry bombs, M-80s, and “silver salutes” have been illegal in all 50 states since 1966. Those that still get sold come from outlaws, who don’t worry about quality control. That’s one reason they’ve been policed by the ATF (officially, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) since the 1970s.