Who Needs Explosives Anyway?

A new Senate bill calls for background checks on explosives sales. That might prevent another terrorist bombing, but what about the millions of Americans who blow stuff up legally? Caitlin Dickson reports.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a bill on behalf of Sen. Frank Lautenberg that would require background checks on purchases of explosive materials and a permit to build homemade explosives. This bill illuminates the fact that, as of now, explosive powders, such those that were used in the Boston Marathon bombing, can be purchased easily and in large quantities (up to 50 pounds, to be exact) without a background check. If that sounds crazy to some, there are many others who say they depend on explosives for their (entirely legal) livelihoods. They include:

The Farmers Who Grow Your Vegetables

One of the biggest markets for explosives and the materials used to make them is the farming community. Dynamite and other explosives are used to demolish beaver dams that can flood farms and kill off other rodents, while ammonium nitrate—which is currently being investigated as the cause of the West, Texas, explosion that killed 14 people earlier this month—is inexpensive and commonly used as fertilizer. Farmers may also use explosives to loosen soil or break up boulders and tree stumps that get in the way of sowing crops.

The Pyrotechnicians Who Put on July 4th Displays

From action films and rock concerts to the Super Bowl and the Fourth of July fireworks display, pyrotechnics and the experts who handle them have long been an integral part of American entertainment. Fireworks and other special effects require the use of what’s known as “low explosives,” such as black powder, that do not detonate with a shock, but rather deflagrate, releasing a large amount of heated gas.

The Construction Guys Who Built Your Office

Dynamite, blasting caps, and other types of so-called “high explosives” are often the most effective tool for demolishing anything from bridges and entire buildings to chimneys and towers at the start of a new construction project.

The People Who Police Your Streets

Exploding targets are a popular training tool, whether shooting is your job (police officer? soldier?) or simply a hobby. The key components of these targets, usually a fuel, like aluminum, and an oxidizer, such as ammonium nitrate, are only considered explosives once they are combined. So companies like Tannerite or Sure Shot avoid ATF regulations by selling the targets as make-at-home kits, with the ingredients packaged separately.

Coal Miners

Mining is the primary use of explosives in the United States, with Kentucky, Wyoming, Virginia, Indiana, and West Virginia accounting for more than half of all the country’s explosive sales.

Boy Scouts

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No matter the age, some people just never get sick of blowing things up. Hobbyists purchase and build their own explosives to experiment with backyard fireworks, smoke bombs, and model rockets.