ROWLAND — In the days leading up to the Fourth of July, thousands of shoppers travel from across the Southeast to stock up on fireworks at Rocket City.
One of several attractions at the South of the Border theme park located a few miles from Rowland, the store boasts a dizzying array of pyrotechnics — most of which are illegal to set off this side of the state line.
But many North Carolinians are undeterred by statute 14-410, which prohibits the private use of firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and aerial fireworks.
Anthony Mullens has made a holiday tradition out of visiting Rocket City to gather supplies for his annual backyard light show. A contractor living in Fayetteville, Mullens feels that the state’s fireworks laws are too strict.
“They should probably relax them,” he said last week while sifting through a bin of brightly colored rockets.
Wilson resident Dominique Barnes makes it a point to visit the store on his way back home from summer vacations in Myrtle Beach.
“It’s part of the family trip,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for the past five years.”
According to Lumberton Police Sgt. Shawn Byrd, it’s inevitable that some Robeson County residents will celebrate America’s 238th birthday by breaking the law.
“Anything that goes ‘pop’ or ‘boom’ is pretty much illegal,” said Byrd, who has been with the Lumberton Police Department for 16 years. “We know they’re going to shoot them, but we don’t condone it.”
Possession of fireworks in North Carolina is a misdemeanor offense and anyone caught launching them could face a fine of as much as $500 or spend up to six months in jail.
Byrd advises residents to avoid the risk, suggesting they attend the annual Family Fourth celebration at Lumberton High School on Thursday instead. The event kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and is set to conclude with an elaborate display curated by Pennsylvania pyrotechnics company Zambelli Fireworks.
“It’s done professionally and it’s in a safe environment,” Byrd said of the event, which will also feature live music and activities for children.
There are a couple of other authorized options in Robeson County to see bombs bursting in air.
On Friday, a fireworks display sponsored by the St. Pauls Volunteer Fire Department will be held at dusk at the corner of South Fifth and West McLean streets in St. Pauls.
On Saturday, the Lumbee Fireworks Sky Show will be held at 9 p.m. at the Lumbee Regional Development Association Office Complex in Pembroke. The event will mark the end of the 46th annual Lumbee Homecoming celebration.
Byrd implores residents who can’t be talked out of disobeying the law to exercise caution.
“We know people are going to do it regardless and the only thing we ask is that they use all the safety precautions they can,” he said. “Fireworks are very dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.”
Nationwide, eight deaths and an estimated 11,400 injuries were caused by fireworks in 2013, up from 8,700 injuries in 2012, according to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Despite the associated health risks, many residents disagree with the state’s stance on fireworks.
Last week, The Robesonian asked its readers on Facebook if they thought that fireworks should be allowed in North Carolina. The majority of people who responded were in favor.
Keith Edward Locklear Sr. felt that fireworks are less dangerous than other activities that are permitted in the state.
“The lottery made it, [and] fireworks are safer than gambling,” he said.
Lewis Bruce said that fireworks are an important part of the nation’s heritage.
“For more years than anyone alive can remember, aerial fireworks have been our way of celebrating our independence on July 4th,” he said. “And with N.C. being one of the 13 original colonies, we of all others should continue to [do] so.”