Across the United States, police are noticing a dramatic rise in the number of complaints about people setting off fireworks, and the backyard pyrotechnics industry confirms that sales of their products are increasing.
When it comes to fireworks, Americans are governed by a patchwork of sometimes contradictory state and local laws, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. In some states, such as Massachusetts, effectively all consumer fireworks are banned. In others, such as Missouri, it's basically "anything goes."
Further, in states with strict fireworks laws, such as Illinois, consumers can make a short drive across the border into neighboring states, such as Indiana, which much-more freewheeling fireworks laws.
In other words, as Slate reported, efforts at making, buying, and launching backyard fireworks illegal often don't prevent scofflaws from lighting them up — particularly as the 4th of July inches ever closer. What's more, this year it seems as if far more scofflaws are lighting far more fireworks.
In Boston, for example, police tallied 1,445 fireworks complaints in the first week of June. By comparison, for the same time period last year, the number was 22; that's a 2,300 percent increase. A few hundred miles away, in Syracuse, New York, the mayor has vowed a crackdown after a 335 percent increase in fireworks complaints.
Anecdotally, Facebook and Twitter have seen a stark increase in the number of users complaining of neighborhood scofflaws setting off pyrotechnics when they're not supposed to. Of course, not every social media complaint equates to a phone call to the police.
Crime data is one thing, sales data is another. And indeed, a spokesperson for the National Fireworks Association confirmed to Slate that sales are up. Similarly, at an industry meeting earlier this year, American Pyrotechnics Association executive director Julie Heckman said that her industry is anticipating "a banner year" for consumer sales.
So why are Americans spending more money on backyard fireworks and annoying their neighbors by launching them more frequently?
It's hard to pin down on any one thing, of course. For example, the industry's sales certainly haven't been hurt by several states liberalizing their fireworks laws over the past couple of decades.
However, the coronavirus bugaboo may also be a factor, if not the factor, in this year's stark increase in sales and complaints.
For starters, as mass gatherings are shut down due to the pandemic, municipal 4th of July celebrations are off the table. Americans are looking to pick up the slack with backyard displays.
Further, Americans may simply be frustrated and looking to let off some steam. Journalist Rodger Sherman certainly believes that's the case.
"It does feel like the Fireworks Guys Of America had a meeting like 'in these trying times… the people need Unexpected Loud Booms more than ever... let's give them all the Booms we can,'" he tweeted.