By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
---- — Local and state officials were close to speechless yesterday when they learned Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older Boston Marathon bombing suspect, had purchased reloadable mortar kits at a New Hampshire fireworks store.
Those reloadable shells, as well as so-called helicopters and parachute aerial devices, were up for a potential ban by the state Legislature.
But lawmakers last month decided to delay action on House Bill 336, sponsored by Rep. Charlene Takesian, R-Pelham.
As it now stands, anyone 21 or older can purchase those and many other types of fireworks sold in the Granite State. Tsarnaev reportedly paid cash for the fireworks at Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook in early February.
The fireworks bill was retained in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for more work. That move followed opposition from businesses that had already stocked up on inventory.
The bill was introduced after a fireworks explosion in Pelham last July injured 13 people, including five children.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office pointed to reloadable shells as a contributing factor in the Pelham accident.
State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan expressed his disappointment last month when the bill was held over.
Yesterday, he reiterated those concerns, as well as concerns specifically about reloadable mortars.
“I have had concerns and had expressed those on a few occasions,” Degnan said, “with regards to possible misuse of pytrotechnics. Bear in mind, any pyrotechnic could be misused. However, reloadable shells are much easier because they are not all packed in the tubes, like multi-shot units.”
The fire marshal reaffirmed his support of the proposed ban.
“I do wish to continue to support the ban and have had some communication with the Criminal Justice and Public Safety chair and I appreciate her retabling the bill so it can be worked on,” Degnan said. “I will continue to work with them to hopefully bring back the previous ban on reloadable shells.”
Degnan said people need to look at the injuries incurred July 3 in Pelham and realize how dangerous those particular fireworks are.
“They are out there and they are explosives,” he said.
Pelham selectmen, too, considered local fireworks restrictions after the accident last summer.
But in October, selectmen decided against banning or restricting fireworks. The board appeared divided and opted to have one member talk to fireworks companies about community education programs.
Yesterday, Pelham Selectman Hal Lynde, who’s married to Takesian, was stunned by the news of Tsarnaev’s purchases in Seabrook.
“I’m almost dumbfounded,” he said. “We may to look at these things in a different light.”
Tsarnaev bought two “Lock and Load” mortar kits, each containing a tube and 24 shells.
“The name kind of conjures that up,” Lynde said. “You have mortars, used in the military to lob explosive shells. .... I guess is it conceivable one could use these things to launch a bunch of little bomblets out, instead of just fireworks.”
But, he said, any ban really needs to happen at the state level. Municipalities can ban fireworks within their borders, but that wouldn’t prevent their use or misuse.
“We have no control over distribution,” Lynde said. “The limit of our ability would be to say you can’t use it in Pelham.”