A friend of mine wanted some heavy duty fireworks for a backyard display on Wednesday night. He liked a big store in Brevard County he’d heard about, so off we went.
It was my first trip to buy heavy-duty fireworks in years, and my first ever in Florida. Earlier this year, the state legislature failed to overturn a law that makes fireworks illegal unless you plan to use them for agricultural purposes or chasing off birds, etc.
The store was Phantom Fireworks in Cocoa. They have commandeered a former car dealership on King Street (State Road 520). It was busy but not crowded.
There was a security guard outside on the lot. Inside, another guard watched everyone closely. There was a checkpoint-like table where three women sat with computers and forms to be filled out. More than a dozen employees were present, wearing purple Phanton shirts.
“Have you shopped here before? Do you intend to buy fireworks?” they asked. I wanted to buy a few small things. They told me a waiver form was necessary, along with I.D.
The form asked if I would use the fireworks for blasting, killing wildlife and other activities – apparently common questions for years if buying larger shells. It also asked if I had ties to organizations on the federal Terrorist Watchlist.
Let’s be clear here, I have no such ties. But I did wonder how effective such a question is.
This is big, big business. Youngstown, Ohio-based Phantom’s website says it has locations in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Some of the fireworks collections at the store were more than $1,000. In Orange County, there are no Phantom stores, but several tent locations with smaller fireworks and other retail sites.
Phantom’s website says Florida locations include 10 stores, 14 tent locations and merchandise in another 20 other retail outlets.
There is good reason for the increased security, but there’s also ongoing debate about further measures to check on people who buy fireworks. The Boston Marathon bombers bought some of their gun powder in the form of fireworks at a Phantom location in New Hampshire.
A story on ThinkProgress.org outlined the issue a little further last year, noting that the post-9/11 Safe Explosives Act tightened up regulations on fireworks, but still allows for purchase of up to 50 pounds of black powder per person for sporting and other purposes.