State looks to limit sale and use of tannerite in New York

Despite opposition from two local state legislators, New York state is poised to more heavily regulate the sale of tannerite.

Legislation passed by the state Assembly on the final day of the legislative session would make it illegal to buy tannerite in New York state without a certificate required to buy other explosives. Those in violation of the state law could face a class E felony charge or up to $2,500 in fines. The legislation, A. 4452, was sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains, and was passed 111-35 in the state Assembly and 42-20 in the state Senate.

It will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted against the legislation on the floor of the Assembly on June 20.

No one under the age of 18 would be able to buy tannerite or be eligible to obtain the state-required certification to sell the substance. Anyone who wants to sell tannerite would have to apply to the state Labor Department for a certificate to sell it and pay a $50 fee. The certificate would be good for at least a year.

“This bill would make it essentially illegal for sportsmen in New York state to buy or possess tannerite,” Goodell said in his remarks on the bill. “Those of us in the countryside that can appreciate and enjoy good marksmanship, this is another infringement, albeit somewhat less than the SAFE Act, on our Second Amendment rights.”

Tannerite is an explosive made from two separate compounds, ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder. The compound is intended to be used as a small exploding target for target practice. When large amounts of the chemicals are combined, the results can create a powerful and dangerous explosion.

The compound has been cited by local law enforcement agencies as the cause of loud explosions heard for miles by area residents. One such incident in 2013 in Busti created an explosion loud enough to be heard throughout the southern portion of the county.

Residents in Chautauqua County took to social networking sites on that 2013 night to discuss the extraordinary explosion. Many of them reported hearing multiple blasts. Rampant rumors of the source quickly spread, ranging from the plausible thunderstorm and gas well explosion to a sonic boom caused by an unidentified flying object over Lake Erie.

“My whole trailer just shook,” said Janel Warner, who lived near the Falconer border at the time. “My husband turned to me and said, ‘What was that?’ I thought it was thunder because it was just this loud vibration. I didn’t know what was going on it was that loud.”

The incident also prompted then-Sheriff Joe Gerace to say he was considering proposing a countywide ban on tannerite.

Another incident in 2018 of two loud explosions in Ripley were likely the result of someone shooting tannerite.

According to the legislative justification for A. 4452, in January 2013 the FBI published a bulletin warning that tannerite may be used as an explosive in improvised explosive devices, stating, “The FBI assesses with medium confidence criminals and extremists may actively be attempting to acquire exploding targets to obtain the ammonium nitrate for use in the manufacture of improvised explosives based on FBI investigations of individuals interested in manufacturing explosives.”

In September 2016, a bomb containing tannerite exploded on West 23rd Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea injuring 31 people. And, in September 2018, a wildfire was started in California as a result of exploding tannerite. The ensuing fire spread to more than 1,200 acres and caused $500,000 dollars in damage. Additionally, in November of 2018 a U.S. Border Patrol Agent detonated tannerite that sparked a 47,000-acre fire that spread across 20 fire departments and cased $8,188,069 dollars in damages.

Buchwald proposed similar legislation in 2014, 2014-15 and 2017-18. It passed the Assembly in 2015-16 and 2017-18 but never passed the state Senate.

“It’s my pleasure to bring this bill to the floor again and I thank my colleague for making it a swifter debate in this late hour,” Buchwald said. “This is a crucial bill for protecting New Yorkers. The Second Amendment has nothing to do with what you shoot at. There are products sold in this state that involve two chemicals wrapped together with instructions on how to mix them, and after being mixed, they are explosives subject to regulation in New York. Because they aren’t already mixed, they’re not yet regulated by New York. … I am pleased (the state Senate) has already passed the bill this year and that we will be enacting this bill into law keeping New Yorkers safe recognizing that ultimately regulation, not banning, is an appropriate thing to do for this product as a number of other states have done, as the U.S. Forest Services have done. We have to make sure that we keep New Yorkers safe.”


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