Senator Schumer and Senator Lautenberg
Press Conference On S724

A Response By
The Amateur Rocketry Society Of America

On July 29, 2003, Senators Schumer and Lautenberg held a press conference in response to pressure by Senator Enzi, the Tripoli Rocketry Association (TRA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) to support their effort to get the US Senate to pass by unanimous consent the Hatch-Kohl version of S724 or H-K S724 (Click here for a discussion of H-K S724). While the Amateur Rocketry Society of America (ARSA) neither supports H-K S724 nor the effort to pass it by unanimous consent in the Senate, ARSA feels it is necessary to respond to Senators Schumer's and Lautenberg's false statements during their press conference. Their false statements have been carried extensively by major media outlets and wire services. In order to pass meaningful legislation, as proposed by ARSA (Click here for ARSA's compromise S724), it is necessary to sent the record straight on the Senators false claims.

False statement By The Senators:

"Why anyone in the post-9/11 world would think that making it easier to get bomb-making materials is a good idea is beyond me," said Schumer, the head of the Senate Democratic Homeland Security Task Force. "This bill would essentially create a new loophole that lets terrorists and criminals accumulate large amounts of the same explosives the Unabomber and other terrorists have used. We should be tightening the restrictions on this stuff, not loosening them." Schumer's press release further states that black powder has been used in a number of high-profile bomb plots, including ones by the Unabomber, alleged Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph and alleged Shoe-Bomber Richard Reid.

The Facts:

Under the current Homeland Security Act an individual can purchase up to 50 lbs of black powder without an ATFE permit. All they have to do is tell the clerk behind the counter they are going to use the black powder in antique firearms. Of course bombers and terrorists can lie about their intended use for black powder, but there is a more readily available bomb material where they don't have to lie. It is smokeless powder. In fact, the three specific bombing incidents mentioned by the Senators actually used smokeless powder instead of black powder. Smokeless powder can be purchased in unlimited quantities without an ATFE permit and without the buyer having to state any intended purpose to the seller. Cans of smokeless powder can be found in the sporting departments of Wal Mart stores across America.

    Alleged Black Powder Incidents
  1. The Unabomber did not use black powder according to Terry D. Turchie, a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He coordinated of the efforts of the three agencies investigating the Unibomber incidents; FBI, ATFE, and Postal Inspection Service. He stated the following in sworn testimony with respect to the Unibomber's explosive devices. "As to the construction of the destructive devices, each was passive (i.e. requiring some initiating action by the victim), the main explosive charges were similar (i.e. smokeless powder, potassium chlorate, ammonium nitrate, sodium chlorate, and aluminum powder/flakes), the fusing systems were similar (i.e. power sources, wiring arrangements, switches, and initiator), and the housing for the explosive devices were constructed of similar materials (i.e. wooden, cardboard, or plastic boxes)."
  2. According to CNN, the Olympic Park bomb used smokeless powder, " Apparently, the explosive used in the pipe bomb was smokeless powder and not black powder as earlier assumed. Smokeless powder is sold over the counter to hobbyists who load their own ammunition and authorities say that about 30 percent of all such pipe bombs in America are made of smokeless powder. One kind, the double smokeless, contains a small amount of nitroglycerin but the standard one is powerful if used skillfully."
  3. The Senators also missed the mark with the alleged shoe-bomber. According to CNN, "Officials say Richard Reid hid 10 ounces of PETN-based material, a version of the plastic explosive C4 that is very sensitive to heat and friction, in each of his shoes when he boarded Flight 63 in Paris on December 22."

Why can black powder and smokeless powder be purchased in such larger quantities? The exemption was placed in the law in the earlier 1970's by the National Rifle Association so that antique firearm shooters and reloaders of piston, shotgun and rifle ammunition would not need ATFE permits.

As a final footnote, it should be mentioned that the "shoe bomber" did have safety fuse that was going to be used to initiate the PETN explosive. Safety fuse consists of black powder packed inside a cord. It can also be purchased without an ATFE permit as it is already exempt in the Homeland Security Act. It is commonly used as "cannon fuse".

False statement By The Senators:

"The bottom line is that a determined terrorist could easily purchase enough quantities of black powder or other explosives until he or she had enough to make a pipe bomb or larger explosive device," Schumer said. "The ATF says that between 1997 and 2003, it recorded 251 explosive related incidents involving black powder. Loosening the restrictions on this stuff is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with public safety. We can't let that happen."

The Facts:

The original S724 and the H-K S724 permit Americans to tell the truth when they buy up to 2 lbs of black powder for parachute ejection charges in their rockets. It does not create a new loophole or loosen restrictions for terrorists or criminals to obtain black powder, smokeless powder or other explosive materials. That loophole is already there if they want to use it. Anyone can legally buy unlimited quantities of smokeless powder without an ATFE permit. Without an ATFE permit, they can buy up to 50 lbs of black powder if they tell the clerk it is for antique firearm shooting. They can also buy percussion caps, safety and pyrotechnic fuses, quills, quick and slow matches, and friction primers without an ATFE permit if they tell the clerk it is for antique firearm shooting. Unless the Congress wants to take on the National Rifle Association that loophole is not going away.

False statement By The Senators:

The two Senators also repeated a series of lies from the ATFE and Justice Department that (1) amateur and high power rockets could be used as deadly missiles, (2) APCP is an explosive and (3) only 10% of hobby rocketry is affected by the Homeland Security Act.

The Facts:

In fairness to the Senators, they lack the technical knowledge to know the first two claims are false. You can click on the links below to learn that amateur and high power rockets are useless as "deadly missiles". ARSA will be posting a detailed response on the false claim that APCP is an explosive very soon. A link will be provided to that page.

With respect to the third claim that the Homeland Security Act is only affecting 10% of hobby rocketry, the Senators should ask the ATFE and Justice Department to show them how they arrived at that number. We believe the Senators will have a long wait as the number cannot be justified by any data. Senators and staffers have asked for that justification months ago and are still waiting.

ARSA did develop a number based on actual data. Even with ATFE's proposed 62.5 gram propellant weight exemption, approximately 56% of the solid rocket motor models sold to consumers require an ATFE permit. ARSA used the combined certified motor lists from the Tripoli Rocketry Association and National Association of Rocketry to determine the number of different solid rocket motor models that would require an ATFE permit for purchase and use. There are approximately 230 solid rocket motor models sold to consumers. About 129 of those models will require an ATFE permit for purchase and use.

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