Michael O'Neill, of Woonsocket, owner of Slo Jo's Fireworks on Main Street in Woonsocket, points out the lock and load type of fireworks purchased by the Boston Marathon bombers. These explosive type of fireworks are illegal in Rhode Island. (Photo/Ernest A. Brown)
WOONSOCKET â Local fireworks retailers say while it is indeed possible to make a bomb if you harvest enough gunpowder from certain fireworks, they donât believe their wares are a threat to public safety.
A New Hampshire fireworks store has told the FBI that it sold $400 worth of fireworks in February to accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who reportedly used gunpowder from two "Lock and Load" re-loadable mortar kits to make the explosives that killed three people and wounded more than 180 others on April 15.
There have been cases in the past where fireworks have been used by suspected terrorists in bomb making, including a man who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.
But Michael OâNeill, owner of Slo Joâs Fireworks in Woonsocket, says heâs not worried about people coming into his Main Street shop to buy pyrotechnic devices for bomb-making purposes.
âFirst of all, I donât have that kind of stuff in my store and, second, it seems like a lot of work when you can just go out and buy gunpowder online or at any ammunition store,â he says. âYou canât be worried that everyone who walks into your store could be a potential terrorist.â
Fireworks are legal in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, but not in Massachusetts. Although Rhode Island legalized the sale of fireworks in 2010, some fireworks remain illegal in the state. They include any fireworks that travel more than six feet into the air, or those that make a loud bang sound.
Only sparklers and ground devices such as cylindrical fountains, cone fountains, illuminating torches, ground spinners and toy smoke devices are legal for consumer purchase in Rhode Island.
âClass C fireworks are your consumer fireworks, or what I like to call, âsafe and saneâ fireworks. Things like sparkers and smoke balls. They donât explode, donât have a report and are not aerial,â says OâNeill.
According to OâNeill, anything that contains more than 500 grams of total pyrotechnic content is considered a Class B firework.
âThis is the display stuff you see at carnivals and commercial fireworks shows. Itâs illegal to sell them in Rhode Island,â he says.
According to state law, a person must be 16 years of age to purchase and possess fireworks in Rhode Island.
âMy store policy is that I donât sell fireworks to anyone under 18,â says OâNeill. âI may lose some business, but then I donât have any problems, either.â
âThree Finger Eddie,â known by his peers in the pyrotechnics community as the Godfather of Fireworks, says he doesnât think that fireworks materials alone produced the powerful explosions set off in Boston.
It was reported this week that the Boston Marathon suspects used gunpowder from fireworks to build one of their two pressure-cooker bombs, but Eddie â real name Edwud Twyer - who has been in the fireworks business since 1960, says consumer-grade fireworks, particularly mortar kits, which have less than a pound and a half of gunpowder, wouldnât have been enough to detonate the bombs used in Boston.
âWhat they bought were âlock and loadâ re-loadable mortar kits, which contain four tubes and 24 shells each,â says Twyer, president of Three Finger Eddieâs Fireworks in Warwick.
According to Twyer, who also owns fireworks stores in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the kits are typically used for amateur fireworks displays. Users load one shell at a time into a launch tube, and when it is shot in the air, the shell bursts, creating a colorful and noisy display
Each shell is loaded with two forms of powder - a black powder, which is the explosive ingredient that causes the shell to burst - and effect powder, which creates the colorful lights and most of the noise.
âItâs my opinion it would be almost impossible for that class of fireworks to produce they kind of explosion we saw in Boston,â said Twyer, adding the suspects may have used an alternate fuel source.
OâNeill says he will continue to run his fireworks retail store the way he always has by offering âsafe and sane fireworksâ as allowed by state law and emphasizing the safe use of those products.
âWe do not sell firecrackers, rockets or any other non-legal fireworks,â he says. âOur motto is stay safe and only use safe fireworks.â