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Gunkie

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I didn't know the correct forum to post this to, and it may have been posted already. But here it is, straight from the front page of today's Wall Street Journal:

============================


Explosive Debate:
Should U.S. Check Up
On Model Rockets?

Under 9/11 Law, ATF Keeps
Tabs on Propellant Buyers;
Feds Visit Al's Hobby Shop
By ROBERT BLOCK
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 7, 2004; Page A1

ELMHURST, Ill. -- Al's Hobby Shop in this leafy corner of suburban Chicago is always packed with mothers looking for Cub Scout badges, teenagers ogling imported slot cars and grown men playing with model trains.

But to federal law-enforcement officials, Al's is also a possible terrorist supply depot. And so, last October, a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was sent to Al's from Washington to buy $1,700 in model rocket motors.

"The guy told me that the government wanted to do some tests," recalls Tim Lehr, who sold the agent 40 motors containing almost 60 pounds of propellant. "He wouldn't say what the tests were for, but I could guess: The government wanted to ruin my hobby."

Since the passage of the initial post-9/11 antiterrorism laws in October 2001, hobby rocketry has been struggling to avoid regulation that enthusiasts say will destroy their sport, deter youngsters from pursuing an interest in science and waste the nation's limited law-enforcement resources. The Department of Justice says that federal agents need to keep an eye on who is buying model rockets because the toys are potentially dangerous and could be adapted by terrorists to attack airplanes and American soldiers.


Members of the Maryland Delaware Rocketry Association prepare for a launch.


At the heart of the problem is a long-running dispute between hobbyists and the ATF, which is part of the Justice Department, over how to legally classify the chemicals used to propel rockets. Ammonium perchlorate composite propellant, better known as APCP, is a rubbery mixture of resins, powdered metals and salts that ignites at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and burns like a road flare on steroids. It's the same fuel that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses in the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle.

For hobby rockets, APCP comes in the form of pellets wrapped in cardboard about an inch in diameter and three inches long. The cylinders, which start at $12.50 apiece and can go up into the hundreds of dollars, can be stacked in reusable aluminum casings to power larger rockets.

Rocketeers have always maintained that APCP doesn't detonate, it deflagrates. That is, it burns intensely at a controlled rate. Since 1971, however, the ATF has branded APCP as a "low explosive" subject to regulation and licensing by the bureau. In practice, the ATF largely ignored the rocketeers as long as they weren't selling or buying APCP across state lines.

With new fears about national security after 9/11, President Bush signed the Safe Explosives Act, an antiterrorism law contained in the bill that created the Department of Homeland Security. In effect for a year, the law now requires permits for all purchases of rocket motors and all explosives, including APCP.

Suddenly, hobbyists who had been freely purchasing such motors for years had to be fingerprinted and to submit to background checks. They had to pay $25 for ATF low-explosive-user permits to purchase more than 2.5 ounces of APCP and allow local and federal inspectors onto their property anytime to check for proper storage of the propellant.

The government insists it is trying to balance civil liberties with homeland safety. But federal investigators say that since terrorists showed they could level skyscrapers with boxcutters, no potentially suspicious activity can be ignored. "Most of the people involved in these activities are harmless fanatics and nerds," says one federal law-enforcement official. "But since 9/11, we have a responsibility to make sure the nerds are not terrorists."

Other hobbyist have also come under federal scrutiny, including bird watchers on the Canadian border and operators of radio-controlled airplanes. But this does little to console the rocketeers. Terry McCreary, associate professor of analytical chemistry at Murray State University in western Kentucky and a hobby-rocket guru, says sport rocketry helps kids by interesting them in wonders of chemistry, physics, astronomy and aerodynamics. "If you look deeply into the background of our top mathematicians and scientists, you will find a kid with a model rocket."

Pointing at a troop of about 15 Boy Scouts at a recent launch in The Plains, Va., Doug Pratt, who runs his own hobby-rocket business out of his basement in Herndon, asked: "Does that look like a group of terrorists to you?"

Faced with the prospect of being fingerprinted and having agents poking around their past, many rocketeers are leaving the hobby. The rocket club at Kettering University in Michigan has closed down because of the new regulatory requirements.

Looking for help, rocket groups have turned to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, an avid fan of hobby rockets and model airplanes. In May last year, Senator Enzi sponsored a bill to exempt hobby rockets from government regulation.

The Department of Justice, which oversees the ATF, then wrote him a letter saying that "large rocket motors could be adapted by terrorists for use in surface-to-air missiles capable of intercepting commercial and military airplanes at cruise level and for use in 'light antitank' weapons capable of hitting targets from a range of nearly five miles."

Mr. Enzi wrote back to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking to see the results of the tests that led his department to its conclusions. Within weeks, an agent from the ATF was sent to Al's Hobby Shop outside Chicago to buy the first rocket motors for testing. Over the past six months, according to ATF officials, agents and private contractors have been working at Air Force bases in Utah and Florida firing model rockets at drones, vehicles and simulated crowds of people. The tests are classified.

Some rocketeers have hit upon another solution: They make their own fuel. They get together on weekends with pizza, beer and jars of precursor chemicals for "cooking parties" in their homes and apartments or in the back rooms of their businesses.

"It's legal and completely safe," says Jerry O'Sullivan, an insurance agent who cooks fuel with his friends in suburban Washington. Mr. O'Sullivan, who is a member of the Maryland Delaware Rocketry Association Inc., is taking advantage of a loophole in explosives legislation exempting anyone who mixes an explosive for his own "personal" use from having to get a permit. The exemption was created mainly for farmers who mix fertilizers and fuel oil to blast their own irrigation ditches.

One oddity of the government crackdown is the focus on rockets and not guidance systems. "The secret is in the guidance systems," says Arthur "Trip" Barber, a former captain of a U.S. navy guided missile destroyer, who is now vice president of the National Association of Rocketry. "I can build a rocket overnight but I couldn't build a guidance system in a lifetime."

Write to Robert Block at bobby.block@wsj.com
 

firemanup

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Don't know about the rest of you, but i continually see this...

I have no problem with being fingerprinted, or the feds checking into my background..

My problem is that i cannot provide the unnecessary storage required for a LEUP...

I'd get one in a minute if I could get the storage worked out...

Seemed to be a typical article.. somewhat flawed but somewhat accurate.... typical news
 

BlueNinja

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I have a slight problem with fingerprinting (call me paranoid) and with storage. How am I supposed to get a shed 75 feet from ANY house, when there houses surrounding this place at 50 feet! Hmm, is an indoor magazine legal? I could pinch for that. The next problem is being a minor. That kinda hurts my chances of getting one.

But in reference to this article, i do have a problem with being called a "nerd". I feel this is stereotypical.
 

loopy

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Originally posted by firemanup
Don't know about the rest of you, but i continually see this...

I have no problem with being fingerprinted, or the feds checking into my background..

My problem is that i cannot provide the unnecessary storage required for a LEUP...

I'd get one in a minute if I could get the storage worked out...

Seemed to be a typical article.. somewhat flawed but somewhat accurate.... typical news
I also have no problem with the process - I had to do the exact same thing to get my clearance to work on the Air Force base I work on. The problem I have is the money involved. I don't have an extra $400 sitting around to buy the storage magazine, and pay for the LEUP.

Loopy
 

jetra2

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I seem to remember reading something a while back...

I think it was on the pool of questions for the L2 test...

It said that you could locate the storage magazine in an attached garage of a single-family residence as long as the garage was covered in a one-hour fireproof barrier.

I'm not sure if that's the rule or not - but if it is...:D :D :D

Jason
 

karatekicker271

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But in reference to this article, i do have a problem with being called a "nerd". I feel this is stereotypical. [/B][/QUOTE]

how are we nerds?? if where nerds because we build these things... grrrrrr:mad:
 

powderburner

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Originally posted by firemanup
I have no problem with being fingerprinted, or the feds checking into my background..
Well, if this was even remotely a legitimate threat that our government should pay attention to, I would also agree.

However-

The government is sticking its nose into our hobby and trying to shut it down because some idiot bean-counter in D.C. does not understand why anyone would consider this 'fun' and since it's not fun to him then it shouldn't be fun to anyone else. It's the same problem we are having with politicians and bureaucrats trying to confiscate guns---some idiot is scared of guns, or thinks he doesn't need to have one, so therefore no one else needs a gun either.

This is simply not a matter for government interference. What is stupid (on a cosmic scale) is that if I WAS ever wanting a weapon then I could go on the black market and get a Stinger or RPG for like $50. One of those things is made for the job, that is, it goes when you pull the trigger, the Stinger guidance is all pre-built for you and ready to go, and even the explosive warhead technology is developed and works every time. No one in their right mind would fumble around with home-made crap that might or might not work, and would take man-years to develop, and would be rather conspicuous to do any testing on.

Hobby rocketry is simply none of the government's business, other than regulating how a manufacturer ships something across the country. Gasoline, fuel oil, and sacks of fertilizer are FAR more dangerous and the government lets ANYBODY purchase that stuff.
 

BlueNinja

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Originally posted by karatekicker271

how are we nerds?? if where nerds because we build these things... grrrrrr:mad:
Well... i didnt say we are nerds,what i meant is that some people think "you fly rockets so youre a nerd".
 

jetra2

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Powderburner,

I just want to say I totally agree with your thoughts. I'm afraid to call it anything more than a theory, though, since we can't exactly prove it, but all the evidence points to your concept.

Jason
 
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