The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Marty Langley, 202-822-8200 x109,

NRA's Long-Running Opposition to Regulation of Common Explosives Threatens Public Safety While Benefiting Its Gun Industry "Corporate Partners" New VPC Report Reveals

Since the 1970s, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has worked to block federal regulation--including background checks on transfers--of black and smokeless powder.


Since the 1970s, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has worked to block federal regulation--including background checks on transfers--of black and smokeless powder. The NRA's decades-long campaign against regulating these two common explosives today benefits the gun industry "corporate partners" that help fund the organization according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) report, Time Bomb: How the NRA Blocked the Regulation of Black and Smokeless Powder to the Benefit of Its Gun Industry "Corporate Partners" Today ( According to numerous news reports, the explosive devices used in the Boston bombing most likely utilized black or smokeless powder.

Kristen Rand, VPC legislative director and study co-author states, "For decades, the NRA has effectively blocked public safety measures in order to protect the profits of the gun industry. In the early 1970s, when Congress acted to regulate explosives in the wake of bombings by radical groups, the NRA rushed in to protect the interests of manufacturers of black and smokeless powder. The NRA's actions to stop the regulation of black and smokeless powder is a time bomb that threatens all Americans."

How the NRA Blocked the Regulation of Black and Smokeless Powder

The VPC study details how in 1970, in response to a wave of bombings throughout the country, Congress, with the support of the Nixon Administration, moved to consolidate and increase federal regulatory oversight of the explosives industry and its products, including black and smokeless powder. Despite the clear threat posed by black and smokeless powder, the NRA--joined by other pro-gun organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)--worked to ensure that resulting legislation contained an exemption for "small arms ammunition and components thereof" which applied to most smokeless powder as well as to "black powder in quantities not to exceed five pounds." In 1974, over the protestations of the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the NRA successfully lobbied to increase the amount of black powder exempted from federal regulation from five pounds to 50 pounds.

The continuing danger posed by the exemptions for smokeless and black powder has been noted by experts. In a review of the implementation of the "Safe Explosives Act" (SEA) passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice identified "several issues related to the regulation and safeguarding of explosives in the United States that while not addressed in the SEA nonetheless are relevant to public safety." Among the issues identified was ATF's limited authority over smokeless and black powder. The report noted, "Because black powder is relatively inexpensive (between $5 and $15 per pound), it is the most common explosive used in pipe bombs. Additionally, the ATF does not regulate smokeless powder, a more expensive explosive used in the manufacturing of firearms ammunition."

ATF acknowledges the threat to public safety posed by the unregulated sale of black powder and smokeless powder. In a letter sent to Federal Firearms Licensees in July 2004, the agency wrote: "As you may know, explosives are frequently used by terrorists to cause destruction. Some of the products you may carry in your inventory, such as black powder and smokeless powder, could be used in acts of violence. While smokeless powder and black powder generally are exempt from the Federal explosives laws, these products are often used to make illegal or 'improvised explosives devices' and pipe bombs." The letter included a flyer headlined "BE AWARE FOR AMERICA....." and set out tips to help dealers identify suspicious buyers.

Examples of NRA Leaders and NRA "Corporate Partners" That Benefit From the Sale of Smokeless or Black Powder

Today, the NRA's longstanding efforts in opposition to the regulation of smokeless and black powder have financially benefited its self-described "corporate partners," including its top donor, Larry Potterfield of MidwayUSA and board member Pete Brownell of Brownells. [For more information on the NRA's Ring of Freedom "Corporate Partners Program" for the gun industry, please see the 2011 Violence Policy Center report Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA,] MidwayUSA stocks "[j]ust about everything for shooting, reloading, gunsmithing and hunting." Through its "Round-Up" program MidwayUSA has channeled nearly $10 million to the NRA and is the "official sponsor" of the NRA's annual meeting which begins on May 3 in Houston. As a "corporate partner," Brownells, the "world's largest supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools," has contributed between $1 million and $4.9 million to the NRA. Additional NRA gun industry "corporate partners" that sell smokeless or black powder and help fund the organization include: Cabela's; Graf & Sons, Inc.; Ellett Brothers; Hodgdon Powder Company; Natchez Shooters Supplies; Sinclair International, Inc.; and, Widener's Reloading and Shooting Supply, Inc.

NRA leaders and corporate partners also benefit from the sale of components that rely on the use of smokeless or black powder such as reloading equipment and accessories, bullets, and brass casings. For example, NRA Board Member Robert Nosler is the chairman and president of Nosler, Inc., which sells bullets for the handloading of ammunition. Nosler, Inc. has contributed between $250,000 and $499,000 to the NRA as a "corporate partner." Hornady Manufacturing Company, headed by NRA Board Member Steve Hornady, sells a wide range of ammunition components and reloading equipment. Hornady Manufacturing Company has contributed between $25,000 and $49,000 to the NRA as a "corporate partner." NRA Board Member Ronnie Barrett is the owner of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, which manufactures primarily 50 caliber sniper rifles and sells brass casings and bullets. Barrett Firearms Manufacturing has contributed between $50,000 and $99,000 to the NRA as a "corporate partner." "Corporate partner" Dillon Precision Products, Inc. sells a wide range of reloading equipment and has contributed between $500,000 and $999,000 to the NRA. "Corporate partner" Cheaper Than Dirt sells bullets, ammunition casings, and other reloading materials and has contributed between $100,000 and $249,000 to the NRA.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) works to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy, and collaboration. Founded in 1988 by Executive Director Josh Sugarmann, a native of Newtown, Connecticut, the VPC informs the public about the impact of gun violence on their daily lives, exposes the profit-driven marketing and lobbying activities of the firearms industry and gun lobby, offers unique technical expertise to policymakers, organizations, and advocates on the federal, state, and local levels, and works for policy changes that save lives. The VPC has a long and proven record of policy successes on the federal, state, and local levels, leading the National Rifle Association to acknowledge us as "the most effective ... anti-gun rabble-rouser in Washington."