In what might equal the mad rush of holiday shoppers thronging to stores on Christmas Eve, the frenzy to buy fireworks before the Fourth of July has started here in Pahrump. Stop by any of our local fireworks businesses and you will find parking lots full of cars and long lines inside the stores.
In order to have enough inventory on hand, the stores bring in so many temporary shipping containers that they begin to resemble a small shipping port. Since this weekend is the last shopping weekend before the holiday, it will also be the busiest one for the stores and they will stay busy right up to the fourth.
Where do all these customers come from? The answer is from all over, but a large percentage come from Las Vegas. Fireworks are illegal in Clark County, (which includes Las Vegas), except for the safe and sane variety during the week prior to July 4.
Specifically, fireworks are illegal unless they meet the following three conditions: the fireworks carry the “Safe-N-Sane” emblem (which means they do not rocket, explode or leave the ground once they are ignited); the fireworks are sold anytime during the week from June 28 to July 4; and the fireworks are sold by licensed vendors approved by the fire department in special booths in Clark County. Therefore, even Safe-N-Sane fireworks are illegal to possess in Clark County for all but one week out of the year.
Fireworks are illegal in most of the rest of the state as well, especially in Northern Nevada where there is a greater threat of wildfires started by fireworks. As a kid I can remember my uncle going to Mexico every summer and coming back with a large number of firecrackers and cherry bombs. We would go out into the rural high desert and spend the day blowing up whatever we could make from old rusted cans and soda bottles.
In retrospect, I guess we were lucky we didn’t hurt ourselves or start a fire, but those were fun summer days. It was probably illegal for us to be doing that many years ago but living in remote communities you tend to live by different rules than city dwellers.
In addition to being able to buy fireworks in a few select areas of Nevada, fireworks are legal to sell and purchase on tribal lands. The catch is if you take them off tribal land you are then illegally transporting fireworks and can be cited. Purchasing fireworks from Native American fireworks stores is just not confined to Nevada. I have spent some time in Washington state and on tribal land there, you can buy fireworks and then set them off immediately at designated areas often located right next to the fireworks stands. The fireworks season there starts in early summer and lasts through the fourth.
Fireworks are big business for Pahrump. The county takes in approximately $140,000 a year from shooter site permits. They also provide jobs and other economic benefits. Nye County’s solution for allowing fireworks sales is similar to how fireworks are treated on tribal land. Nye County has a designated shooter site at the corner of Fox Avenue and Gamebird Road.
Anyone purchasing fireworks at any of the stores in Pahrump must purchase a permit and acknowledge that they understand that the fireworks can only be set off at the site and only during designated times. For the Independence Day holiday this year the dates and times are June 28 and June 29, 7 p.m. to midnight, and July 2 through July 6, 7 p.m. to midnight. Setting off fireworks any other time or location is illegal.
Every year Las Vegas officials complain about their residents driving to Pahrump to purchase illegal fireworks and taking them back to Las Vegas. There is routinely talk of setting up fireworks checkpoints on Highway 160 (like DUI checkpoints) and other measures to stop fireworks from entering Las Vegas. Every year Las Vegas and Clark County officials say they are cracking down on illegal fireworks set off by residents.
Those same officials like to point their collective fingers at Nye County and Pahrump as the main cause of their fireworks problem. Somehow, it’s our fault that Las Vegas residents get in their cars and drive to Pahrump to purchase fireworks. Perhaps we have perfected a form of mass hypnosis that forces them to break the law against their will. Or maybe not. Missing from the rhetoric is any talk of trying to stop fireworks sales from tribal stores. Oh, maybe that’s because tribes are sovereign nations that govern themselves and government officials outside of the tribal nations can do nothing about it.
If fireworks businesses were somehow forced to close in Pahrump, consumers would find another way to buy fireworks, and it would also be an economic hardship to our community. Las Vegas would still have a fireworks issue; the residents would go to the Native American stores on tribal land to make their purchases. Did we not learn any lessons from the proliferation of Indian gaming and how tribes seized on an opportunity to create jobs and income for their tribal members?
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org