Clearing the Air on Smokeless Powder

Sep 1, 2016
In the past 24 hours, I've gotten urgent emails warning me "This is NOT a drill!" issuing "Red Alerts" or simply announcing: "Obama Institutes Ammo Ban".

They've been accompanied by more than a few emails asking two questions: "have you seen this?" or "how come you've not written anything to warn us?"

The answer won't make everyone who uses the near-constant efforts of anti-gunners to hurt law-abiding gun owners while simultaneously building their readership or drive fund-raising efforts happy.

We haven't written anything before today about an alleged ATF rule-change concerning wetted nitrocellulose because what we'd read didn't line up with the lack of action by the real experts in the industry.

When we're unsure about accuracy, we have a longstanding rule: wait until you have some clarity.

Yesterday, after realizing they'd unnecessarily created a furor, the ATF issued some clarity.

Yes, the ATF did issue a statement via their Explosives Industry Newsletter that would have radically changed their requirements for storage, transport and even possession of wetted nitrocellulose -one of the key ingredients required for manufacturing smokeless powder.

In fact, it would have reclassified wetted Nitrocellulose as a high-explosive rather than a toned-down, safer form that could be transported without the burdensome requirements and registration of Nitrocellulose.

And that change would have radically impacted the ammunition industry. Possession, transportation and storage would have instantly become virtually impossible in the extent supply chain.

Without the ability to use, transport and store that key ingredient, ammunition manufacturing would be radically curtailed - if not ceased entirely. That would drive down supplies and force ammunition prices through the roof.

Not hearing -immediately- from the firearms and ammunition industry- set off our internal alarms. After all, if the ATF had suddenly made such an unannounced change, we would have all been inundated with notices from trade and Second Amendment groups, calling for emergency action.
But we didn't get the hue-and-cry from any of the national trade and Second Amendment groups, or from ammo manufacturers. So...we elected to wait 24 hours and see if any clarification was forthcoming.

It arrived yesterday when the ATF issued what they called an "Addendum" to their June 2016 Explosives Industry Newsletter. Granted, the Addendum wasn't a retraction of what they'd written earlier, but it admitted a lack of due diligence on their part.

Their earlier newsletter, the Clarification says, had left several "issues" not fully addressed. Those include the fact the industry works off a lengthy set of exceptions, understandings and individual permissions when it comes to wetted Nitrocellulose.

So.... the ATF announced it would "conduct further industry outreach concerning wetted Nitrocellulose" but "in the interim, previously authorized industry practices concerning wetted Nitrocellulose will not be affected."

It's absolutely essential that each of us remain vigilant when it comes to any action that would seem to be either a direct or indirect assault on our individual rights.

But it's equally important we're certain of the facts of a matter before jumping to conclusions. Otherwise, we're all going to hear "wolf" to the point we'll be caught unaware when a real wolf comes to call -and we all know there are wolves out there.

That sounds simple, but it's not easy.

We take our promise to keep you posted very seriously. And sometimes keeping that promise means keeping quiet when others are shouting.

--Jim Shepherd

Editor's Note:
Here's the entire ATF addendum:

June 2016 - Addendum   Nitrocellulose - Update
"ATF's June 2016 Explosives Industry Newsletter included a brief discussion of Nitrocellulose, and attempted to clarify the circumstances under which wetted Nitrocellulose is considered a high explosive under 27 CFR, Part 555 . . . Subsequent contact from industry members who import, transport, store or employ wetted Nitrocellulose in the production of ammunition, however, has brought to our attention issues that were not fully addressed in the Newsletter and require further consultation and consideration with the industry. Accordingly, ATF has and will conduct further industry outreach concerning wetted Nitrocellulose. In the interim, previously authorized industry practices concerning wetted Nitrocellulose will not be affected."