The internet is a blaze with articles declaring that ATF just banned ammunition sales as a result of a June 2016 Explosives Newsletter; however, it isn’t exactly true (at least, not anymore). The ATF publishes newsletters which provide insight into complex subjects, shifting policies, and guidance on ATF’s plans to enforce regulations. In the June 2016 Explosives Newsletter ATF ‘clarified’ that Nitrocellulose is a high explosive subject to the requirements of the Safe Explosives Act and other laws governing the sale, storage, and transport of high explosives. You may be thinking – “Well great…but what is Nitrocellulose and what does that have to do with ammo?”
The answer to that is simple – most ammunition used in the United States is powered by smokeless gunpowders. Unlike black powder which is a fairly straight forward mix of chemicals, smokeless powders are proprietary blends of different chemicals each unique to the manufacturer. Unique that is except for the base chemical – Nitrocellulose.
The FBI Laboratory Services explains, “All smokeless powders can be placed into one of three different classes according to the…composition of their primary energetic ingredients. A single-base powder contains NITROCELLULOSE, whereas a double-base powder contains NITROCELLULOSE and nitroglyverine. …[T]riple-base powders are NITROCELLULOSE, nitroglycerine, and nitroguanidine….” Or put another way – If your ammunition uses any type of smokeless powder the odds are that it contains Nitrocellulose.
Okay, okay but what does all this mean? – High explosives are subject to extremely stringent regulations. These regulations mean that not just anyone can manufacture, store, or purchase high explosives. High explosives have to be secured in specialized magazines which are more like a bunker than what you insert into your pistol or rifle. High explosives have to be reported and anyone who manufacturers or sells these items have to be thoroughly subjected to background checks and all of their employees (referred to as “responsible persons”) have to be checked out and licensed. Even within the licensing structure there are different requirements.
If smokeless powders are now considered high explosives then ammunition can no longer be sold on store shelves. Manufacturers need to completely redesign their operations, rebuilding their facilities and ensuring their personnel meet the stringent requirements. Simply put, if ATF intends to enforce this new designation ammunition is going to be almost impossible to acquire.
Fortunately, it seems ATF did exactly what it does best – jump the gun. On August 31, 2016 ATF posted an addendum to their June 2016 newsletter. The addendum is merely one paragraph long and suffices to say:
[C]ontact from industry members…has brought to our attention issues that were not fully addressed…and require further consultation and consideration with the industry. Accordingly, ATF has and will conduct further industry outreach….”
In other words, someone at ATF received a question about Nitrocellulose and never stopped to think about the implications of clarifying it as a high explosive. Thankfully, at this time, ATF has concluded, “[i]n the interim, previously authorized industry practices concerning wetted Nitrocellulose will not be affected.”
We here at Prince Law Offices and the Firearms Industry Consulting Group will be sure to update you as ATF releases more information.