- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Model-rocket hobbyists must be licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before buying motors that are now considered explosives under a homeland security law.

The regulation was proposed in March and went into effect this week over the objection of some Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Federal officials say the new regulations apply only to a small segment of rocket enthusiasts — those who use motors containing more than 62.5 grams of explosive propellant.

Bruce Kelly, spokesman for the Tripoli Rocketry Association, called that outlook “disingenuous.”

“One hundred percent of large motor users are affected, and manufacturers, dealers and distributors will see a domino affect,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s extremely excessive.”

The Safe Explosives Act, part of the Homeland Security Act passed by Congress last year, set the regulations in motion and requires anyone purchasing or receiving explosives to have a license. It also affects farmers, construction companies, land managers and those putting on fireworks displays.

The new permit requires applicants to undergo a background check, be fingerprinted and photographed, and it authorizes warrantless searches of storage areas. The license must be posted and available for inspection.

The purpose of the legislation is to provide tighter security for explosive materials and those who purchase it.

However, some members of Congress say the actual regulations are too restrictive and are not what they had intended.

They asked the ATF to delay implementing the new rules regarding rockets but received no response, a Senate aide said.

Bradley Buckles, ATF director, was asked to delay implementation in a letter signed by Republican Sens. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Conrad Burns of Montana, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

“Using rocket motors to send their rockets skyward, hobby rocketeers enjoy a safe hobby and foster an interest in space exploration and science in participating youth,” the senators wrote. “The implementation of permit requirements will make it difficult for this hobby to continue.”

A spokesman for ATF said it could not delay the implementation date of May 24 because it was established by Congress in the legislation.

“We can’t extend the law without a new law,” said spokesman Tom Hill.

However, the public comment period on the new rules runs until June 13, and Mr. Hill said they will review whether changes are needed based on the comments they receive.

Mr. Hill could not say how many comments they have received specifically relating to rocket motors.

The permits cost $25 the first year and $12 for additional years, and can take 90 days to process.

People who bought fireworks before May 24 cannot lawfully accept delivery without a valid license, however municipalities are exempted.

Mr. Hill said at least 4,000 applications have been received for the new permits.

Mr. Enzi said some shipping companies have already decided to stop shipping all rocket motors, whether or not it is affected by the new rules.

“It will kill the industry,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think a lot of things we are doing in the name of homeland security is not worth it. A lot of it is political correctness. It is more than an overburden, it is suffocating the industry.”

A spokesman for Mr. Enzi said they will continue working legislatively to exempt certain model-rocket propellants, in the same fashion that antique-firearm users are exempted from permit requirements for using black powder.

“It would allow [hobbyists] to continue without having to jump through a bunch of hoops and red tape that was not the intent of the law,” said spokesman Coy Knobel.


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