1
Background and Overview

Introduction

Black and smokeless powders are widely available for purchase throughout the United States in sporting stores and gun clubs. Some 3.5 million individuals purchase these powders each year for sport use.1 These individuals include hunters and target shooters who prefer to hand load their own ammunition, as well as those who operate muzzle-loading weapons in reenactments and for hunting. Black powder is also used in the lift charges of fireworks, both for use in large-scale public displays and in fireworks sold for personal use.

In the hands of criminals, however, black and smokeless powders can be used to fill a variety of containers (e.g., pipes, tubes, or bottles) to make very effective bombs. Although these powder devices are not well suited for use in large-scale bombings, such as those that occurred at New York City's World Trade Center in 1993 or Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building in 1995, they were used in several recent terrorist incidents, including the Centennial Park bombing at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and in several devices mailed by the Unabomber.2 According to the Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol.

1  

Statement of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute in the H.R. 1710 (The Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Act of 1995) hearings before the House Committee on the Judiciary, June 13, 1995, distributed to the committee on January 15, 1998.

2  

According to information provided to the committee by the FBI, the first seven bombings committed by the Unabomber between 1978 and 1982 involved devices with commercial smokeless powder as the filler. In subsequent devices, the Unabomber used improvised mixtures of chemicals.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement