Hobbyist Transportation of Fireworks
This article has been vetted for legal accuracy and
reviewed by PGI Attorney, Doug Mawhorr.
If you are even thinking about bringing fireworks to the PGI,
that are regulated as explosives by ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives), please read this article thoroughly as there
has been a major change in rules interpretation and enforcement by ATF.
Let me also clarify and reiterate DOT (U.S. Department of
Transportation) rules interpretation which has NOT changed.
1) If you are NOT in commerce, DOT rules and regulations do NOT
apply to you. You need not have a CDL, placards, log book, MCS 90
insurance certificate and $5 million in coverage, hazardous materials
2) If you are in commerce, you need all of the above and more, which is
described in the DOT's Slideshow on Commercial Transport of
If you are bringing your own non-commercial fireworks to the PGI
for your own enjoyment, DOT has no issue with you and you have none with
them. This has not changed.
If PGI is paying you to do a display, EVEN if you are a club, you
MUST find a qualified means to transport your pyrotechnic materials to
the convention. This most likely means working with a display company as
no club I know of, including the PGI, can afford to become a commercial
transporter of display fireworks.
Some history is required here:
On May 24, 2003, the Safe Explosives Act took effect. This
required an ATF license for ALL transportation of regulated explosives
on public roads. "Public roads" means anything off your personal
A User Limited ATF license will allow intrastate transportation.
An ATF license, of any type greater than User Limited, is required for
interstate transportation. In 2006, the ATF conducted an enforcement
operation at the Appleton PGI convention. Though no material was seized
and no persons were charged, this created a problem that we felt needed
to be addressed.
To that end, on December 11, 2006, our attorney, John Brooke, Tom
Handel, and I met with ATF and DOT personnel at ATF HQ. Representing ATF
at that meeting were, among others, ATF Co-Chief Counsel, Teresa
Ficaretta, Arson and Explosives Division Explosives Industry Branch
Programs Chief Gary Bangs, and his immediate superior, Mark Jones, the
Deputy Division Chief.
An agreement was arrived at, endorsed by ATF Counsel, that a
member of a club could transport hobbyist materials to a club event
under the club ATF license. An agreement was also reached whereby
it was determined that travel requiring an overnight stay would still be
interpreted as transportation and that no magazine storage would be
required. Table of distances requirements would be in force, however,
but cars would not count as occupied structures, so parking lots would
have sufficed so long as the vehicle was locked. The details of and
permissions granted under this agreement have previously been published
in some detail and I will not reiterate those details here.
Though we asked ATF to reduce this agreement to writing, no
written response was ever provided to the questions we posed. These
questions have now been answered in the June 2009 ATF Explosives
For two and a half years, this verbal agreement was honored. No
other interpretation was offered and enforcement was consistent with the
agreements reached in 2006 by ATF and PGI.
DOT did not offer any changes in regulatory interpretation at
this meeting and none were requested of DOT by PGI.
The ATF regulation interpretation has now changed. The
permissions previously afforded members to transport under a club
license have been unilaterally rescinded and previous permissions
granted must be considered as revoked.
If you are a non-ATF-licensed hobbyist:
1) You may continue to make and use regulated explosives for your
own non-commercial enjoyment on your own property and must comply with
lawful storage requirements.
2) You may NOT transport that material to a club event on the
3) You may transfer your material to an ATF license holder. BUT,
you may NOT transport the material off your property to that license
holder. An ATF license holder may come to you, collect your material,
create a record of acquisition, and then transport the materials to his
magazine, logging them in properly. This is NO longer your material. The
transfer must remain NON-COMMERCIAL. No payment for this service may be
made by you to the license holder nor any payment made to you for the
material. The license holder may bring this non-commercial material to
an ATF-licensed-club event and transfer the material to the possession
of the club. The club must create a record of acquisition. If you are a
member of the club, with the club's permission, you may then be allowed
to fire said material at that club event. But, the material can never be
returned to your possession.
From this point forward, with NO EXCEPTIONS:
You MUST have an ATF User Limited License for ANY intrastate
(within your state, crossing NO state boundary lines) transportation of
regulated explosive materials, whether in commerce or not.
You must have an ATF license, of any type greater than User
Limited, which is required for ANY interstate transportation of
Further, as if that news were not enough, you are now in
transportation ONLY while en route and moving. Whether or not you are an
ATF license holder, if you stop overnight, your material MUST either be
placed in a lawful magazine or, in a locked and attended vehicle AT THE
I was pleased that we could work out the agreement that was in
force for the last two and a half years. I am dismayed that an agreement
that worked so well has now been unilaterally discarded without any
consultation with or communication to those affected, except as provided
in the newsletter. But, that's the way it is.
Given the recent changes in ATF interpretation of explosives
rules that rescind these two key allowances previously afforded
hobbyists as published in the June Industry Newsletter, I think it would
be both reasonable and prudent to expect an ATF enforcement action at
the PGI convention and, perhaps, at other regional club activities.
Thus, if you are not 100% certain you are lawfully transporting
fireworks (non-commercial, ATF license holder) do not even think about
doing so this year. If you can find a license holder to come collect
your material and are willing to part with it, as described above, this
is your only remaining option to be a non-licensed hobbyist manufacturer
and shoot your material at club events held at sites other than on your
property. Otherwise, your best course would be to obtain an ATF license
and a contingency storage letter from a license holder or to establish
proper storage on your own premises.
Remember, a license holder may still grant you permission to
store material in his or her magazine, so, while a license is required
for transportation, you need not have storage on your property. As an
example, a member of the CrackerJacks club could:
1) Obtain a user, non-limited ATF license
2) Make fireworks for his own enjoyment at the Crackerjacks club
3) Store the material in the Crackerjacks magazines, after
obtaining written permission to do so
4) Then collect the material and transport it, without any DOT
constraints, to the PGI event or other event, so long as NO compensation
is provided for your doing so (you must remain non-commercial)
In closing, this is, in my opinion, bad news and certainly makes
life more complicated, but, for all but a few hobbyists, there are still
solutions that will allow you to continue to enjoy your hobby. Whatever
you choose to do, please do so lawfully. If you have any questions, feel
free to contact me by email. I will answer your questions and have our
attorneys vet those answers for accuracy.
Three questions, with answers, follow as examples:
I am Type 50 licensed and intend to transport my
shells to Mason City for competition. I am a member of the Iowa
Pyrotechnic Association (IPA).
Several other IPA members (not licensed) intend
to bring theirs as well.
I understand that for them to do so, I (or
another licensed person) would have to assume ownership of their shells,
log them in my (or their) book, fill out an acquisition form, and
transport them myself (or licensed other).
Now the part I don't quite follow "If the IPA
does NOT have a club license, how do I (or other licensed person) get
the shells back to the non-licensed person that built them so they can
compete with them? Does PGI have a club license that I (or other
licensed person) could transfer them to so the builder could get them
back to compete with or are the non licensed builders basically out of
luck until they get licensed for next year?"
~ Jerry Dixon - Iowa Pyrotechnic
1) You (the ATF license holder) collect the shell
and establish the person's name as a maker's mark of registration.
You record acquisition and log the shell in your magazine.
2) You bring it to PGI. Ruth Holcomb (the PGI's
on-site magazine tender) creates a record of acquisition. Ruth will also
need a copy of your ATF license. Ruth will log this into the magazine
and establish the name of the manufacturer member.
3) The member who manufactured the shell can
retrieve it, as a club member, and shoot it at our event, in competition
or in open shooting.
That sounds rather complicated. Can't I, as an
ATF license holder, simply transport the fireworks made by a non-license
holder to the convention where my non-licensed friend and I can then
shoot the material without all the PGI paperwork?
Yes. That may be done. This makes life simpler
for all of us. In fact, we prefer you to do the following:
1) The ATF licensed member collects the
fireworks, creates a record of acquisition, and assures that the shell
is labeled by type, size, and name of the manufacturer. No
time/date/shift or other labeling is required for non-commercial
2) The ATF licensed member logs the material
into the PGI magazine as we have done in years past. All that is
required is that Ruth Holcomb, our magazine tender, log the material in
and give you a ticket to retrieve it.
3) While at the PGI event, any PGI member may
shoot display fireworks or make fireworks, consistent with our rules and
procedures. No license is actually required for activities on private
property, not involving transportation on a public road, commercial
activity, and with proper storage provided.
4) You and your friend may retrieve the
fireworks and shoot them in competition or open shooting.
5) Remember: You may NOT transfer the
fireworks back to your non-licensed friend. They must either be fired or
destroyed at PGI or returned by you to your magazine.
6) Remember: The fireworks remain your
property. PGI only provides storage. Therefore, you are responsible for
this material and its use at all times.
Throughout the paragraph you refer to "license"
holders only being allowed to transport hobbyist fireworks to, in this
case, convention. Several people I've talked to believe that holders of
"Type 34 Permits" can also transport to convention. Are you using the
term "license" as a figure of speech and also mean "permit holder" or am
I mistaken? To break it down I guess I am asking a few questions since I
know of people wondering whether to get a "license" or a "permit".
A Type-34 "Permit" allows interstate
I had used the term license colloquially.
Permit: for users (33-34-35-54-36-37-38-55-60)
License: for manufacturers (19-20-21-22-50), dealers (26-27-28-53-29),
Permit Types: 36-37-38-55-60 allow ONLY intrastate transportation.
Permit Types: 33-34-35-54 allow INTERSTATE transportation.
License Types: 19-20-21-22-50-23-24-25-51-26-27-28-53-29 allow
~ John Steinberg