If history is any guide, thousands of Americans are going to be flooding the nation's emergency rooms this Fourth of July weekend suffering from self-inflicted fireworks injuries.

A little over 12,000 Americans hurt themselves with fireworks last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which tracks this sort of thing. I've broken out those injuries by month in the chart below. If you look really hard, you may be able to discern a seasonal pattern.

Roughly two-thirds of those injuries happened in July. And a little over half of all fireworks injuries last year happened in the three-day stretch between July 4 and July 6, corresponding with the long Fourth of July weekend.

The CPSC has incident-level detail on close to 300 of the cases. The injury reports, scribbled down by harried hospital staff, offer a rather dry exploration into human folly.

  • "46-year-old male was making homemade smoke bombs w/sugar & sodium nitrate & pan ignited."
  • "9-year-old female with thermal burns to both legs after a firework was thrown and bounced off a power line."
  • "35-year-old male presents firecracker exploding in his left eye about 2 hours ago, feels like something in eye."
  • "54-year-old male attempting to relight a type H reloadable aerial shell mortar when first lighting didn't work, shell exploded in hands."

According to the CPSC, firework accidents rarely result in death, but it does happen. In 2014, a total of 11 people died from firework mishaps -- four victims died in house fires related to fireworks, and seven died from "direct impact" of fireworks.

The CPSC's data shows that most firework injury victims are male (74 percent). Children younger than 15 account for well over a third of all fireworks injuries.

At the population level, the overall rate of fireworks injury hasn't changed much over the years. In 1977, for instance, there were about 3.8 fireworks injuries for every 100,000 people in the United States. In 2015, the rate was 3.7 per 100,000.

However, the American Pyrotechnics Association, a trade group for the fireworks industry, points out that the overall use of fireworks has become far more common since 1977. They point to Federal Trade Commission statistics showing that the annual number of fireworks imported from overseas rose from 29 million pounds in 1976 to 285 million pounds last year. Given that the amount of fireworks Americans consume has risen tenfold, the rate of injuries per fireworks consumed has plummeted since the 1970s.

A 2012 Politifact investigation notes that this isn't an accident: Starting in the 1970s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission began setting federal safety standards for fireworks, and in the ’80s it began inspecting and testing imported fireworks for safety.

The American Pyrotechnics Association notes that falling injury rates have happened as a number of states liberalized their fireworks laws, making more and more explosive and incendiary devices available to consumers. Only three killjoy states now maintain an outright ban on all types of consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Overall the story of firework regulation is largely a successful one: A marriage of broadly permissive policies coupled with smart, enforceable safety standards. Policymakers working in the realm of other inherently risky goods, like guns and drugs, may want to take note.

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