Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special – Fourth of July Edition

Today is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day in the US (our non-US readers will have to indulge us on this one).  Traditionally this is celebrated with fireworks, both amateur and professional.  Fireworks are regulated at the local, state, and federal levels, but today we’re interested in the federal regulations.  Specifically: if superpowers were fireworks, how might they be classified?

I. The Classification System

In the past the US used a system that divided explosives into three classes: A, B, and C.  Essentially, Class A included high explosives and bulk packages of low explosives.  Class B included professional fireworks.  Class C included common fireworks.  Most Class and A and B explosives required a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms license, whereas Class C explosives did not.

Now the US uses the United Nations explosives shipping classification system.  The BATF regulations generally refer to the UN numbers (e.g. UN0333 is fireworks class 1.1G) rather than the class, and the Department of Transportation regulations may refer to the class.  The US classifications and regulations are described in 27 CFR 555.11, 49 CFR 172.101 and 49 CFR 173.52.  For example, “consumer fireworks” are defined as

Any small firework device designed to produce visible effects by combustion and which must comply with the construction, chemical composition, and labeling regulations of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission … . Some small devices designed to produce audible effects are included, such as whistling devices, ground devices containing 50 mg or less of explosive materials, and aerial devices containing 130 mg or less of explosive materials. Consumer fireworks are classified as fireworks UN0336, and UN0337 … at 49 CFR 172.101. This term does not include fused setpieces containing components which together exceed 50 mg of salute powder.

UN0336 and 0337 are classes 1.4G and 1.4S, respectively.

II. Superhero Fireworks

So supposing a superhero wanted to use his or her powers to put on a show, would they need a permit?  And if so, what kind?  (Note that we’re ignoring the fact that the definitions generally wouldn’t apply to people, e.g. a superhero is not a “small fireworks device”).  Here we’ll discuss Jubilee, Cannonballthe Human Torch, and the Green Arrow, who uses explosive devices for some of his arrows.

Although she no longer possesses this power, Jubilee’s iconic original power was the creation and control of “energy plasmoids,” which look a lot like fireworks.  The power level ranged from the purely visual to dangerous explosions.  As such, Jubilee’s power could fall anywhere from a sparkler (UN0337 / 1.4G) to a large display firework (UN0335 / 1.3G) or bulk salute (UN0333 / 1.1G).  The largest commercial fireworks contain about 1kg of flash powder, approximately equal to .6kg of TNT, which sounds about right for the upper limits of Jubilee’s power.  Thus, Jubilee might or might not need a license in order to use her powers for a fireworks show.

Cannonball’s controlled explosion power, by comparison, definitely starts out at the bulk salute level.  Curiously, there is no explicit upper end to the amount of explosive material that can be used in a display firework, and the explosives may function by conflagration (i.e. simple burning), deflagration (i.e. a subsonic low explosive), or detonation (i.e. a supersonic high explosive).  So despite the fact that Cannonball’s explosions are extremely powerful, they might still be classified as a display firework.

The Human Torch is a different case altogether because he does not cause any explosions but rather simply burns.  Technically this makes him a consumer firework: he produces an aerial visual effect by combustion but produces no explosions.  Thus, no license required.

Finally, the Green Arrow is unique in this group for using conventional explosive devices rather than superpowers.  Because of this he would follow the normal regulations: strapping a sparkler to an arrow wouldn’t require a license, but using a time-bomb arrow as a makeshift firework shell definitely would.

That’s it for today.  Have a happy (and safe!) Fourth of July!

One Response to Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special – Fourth of July Edition

  1. Fireworks classification systems? It’s all the same to the Martian Manhunter…

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