- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

Law-enforcement authorities are investigating whether a District-based hobby shop has been selling model-rocket engines containing a federally regulated explosive to people who do not hold the required licenses or permits.

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have obtained warrants to search the offices of Kennelson Ray Allen, owner of Performance Hobbies in the 400 block of Jefferson Street Northwest, according to an affidavit filed last week in federal court in the District.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Allen from January 2005 to March 2006 made 129 sales involving high-powered rocket engines containing ammonium perchlorate composite propellant, or APCP.

For rocket engines with more than 62.5 grams of the propellant, federal law requires that sellers learn whether the buyer has a license or permit on file with the bureau, according to the affidavit.

A bureau agent said investigators have found that Mr. Allen sold 62 rocket engines, each with more than 62.5 grams of the propellant to 52 persons who did not have permits or licenses, including six transactions to five Canadian nationals, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Allen said in a telephone interview Friday that he sells only to hobbyists who are using the materials for model rockets.

“We pretty much do our own inside policing,” he said. “We watch who we sell to.”

Mr. Allen also said the rockets don’t have guidance systems, so they wouldn’t work in a terrorist attack.

“These are small rocket motors with no guidance system in them at all,” he said. “There is no threat to anyone. The AFT is trying to regulate us out of the hobby. Some people think they’re picking on me because I’m located in Washington, D.C.”

Mr. Allen said he’s in the process of moving his mail-order business to North Carolina.

A bureau spokesman declined to comment, citing the policy of not discussing active investigations.

Many model-rocket hobbyists, including the National Association of Rocketry, have challenged the bureau’s regulation of the propellant, saying it should not be listed as a federally controlled explosive.

The National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association sued the bureau in federal court in the District in 2000.

“We say that’s akin to regulating the size of a sport utility vehicle by telling anyone if they buy more than two gallons of gas, they need a permit,” Joseph Egan, an attorney for the rocketry groups, argued during that hearing.

A government attorney stated in court pleadings in the case that the bureau “fully supports” rocketeers “enjoying an educational hobby safely.” However, Congress has mandated that it “prevent the misuse and unsafe or insecure storage of explosives.”

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