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U.S. Opinions: Baltimore

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Is fireworks control next?

From an editorial Thursday in the Baltimore Sun:

For those who aren’t up on the latest word from the Boston bombing investigation, it appears some or all of the gunpowder allegedly used in the manufacture of bombs by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came from fireworks. Employees of a New Hampshire fireworks store say the elder Tsarnaev bought about $400 worth of fireworks from the outlet in February.

Whether the bombs could have been made entirely from the contents of the fireworks in question is open to debate. Some in the fireworks industry are skeptical.

But in theory, bomb experts say, you could produce a significant blast from using the powder in fireworks mortars combined with a pressure cooker and shrapnel like small nails or BBs.

Why hasn’t this possibility come up before? Actually, it has. Remember the Connecticut man who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010? He bought fireworks from a Phantom Fireworks store in Pennsylvania, apparently to use them as a triggering device.

Fireworks are already federally regulated, but these events ought to raise serious questions about whether the public is protected sufficiently. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sets limits on the “pyrotechnic composition” of consumer fireworks, but no rules prevent individuals from buying them in bulk.

States and local governments also regulate fireworks, but their rules vary tremendously. As it happens, New Hampshire’s laws on the subject are more lax than Massachusetts’, so that explains why the suspects may have needed to cross state lines. But New Hampshire’s rules are actually more strict than in states like Mississippi or Alabama, where there’s little oversight of any kind.

Are a couple of isolated cases, albeit events most regard as acts of terrorism, enough to justify stricter regulations? That’s not yet clear, but certainly those alone should trigger a serious inquiry by the CPSC and Congress.

If stricter rules deterred the next domestic terrorist from setting off a bomb, that would be great. But it should be enough to spare teens and others from losing fingers or eyes or suffering other wounds from devices that are better left to the pros anyway.

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