Limiting Criminal Access to Explosives and Precursor Chemicals


Given the many types and sources of explosives and precursor chemicals1 for use in constructing bombs, it seems impossible to prevent all illegal bombings by controlling bombers' access2 to these materials. More realistic are controls that could make it more difficult for would-be bombers to carry out their crimes and could increase the probability of their being caught—an approach taken by the British and others in their efforts to thwart terrorist bombers.

In weighing the possible costs and benefits of legislative controls on access to precursor chemicals, the committee concluded that there would be no substantial benefit to law enforcement if only precursor chemicals were regulated without also imposing adequate controls on criminal access to the commercial explosives themselves. Because access in the United States to commercial explosives may not be adequately regulated at the federal level, assessment of the need for controls must extend to all precursors to illegal explosions. This broader set of precursors includes precursor chemicals, as well as commercial explosives and detonators that are commonly available to would-be bombers by legal and illegal means.3


 In this context, a precursor chemical is any chemical that can be used to manufacture an explosive material.


 As used here, the term ''access" includes legal purchase, fraudulent purchase, and theft.


 Black and smokeless powders, which were excluded from the charge for this study, are currently used in about one-third of all bombing incidents (FBI, 1997). Options for controlling black and smokeless powders will be discussed in a National Research Council report forthcoming in October 1998.

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