Questions remain over addressing impacts of binary explosive usage in county

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 21, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

Leaders review options after concerns over explosive firearms targets

PRINCE GEORGE – The Prince George Board of Supervisors continues to review its options when it comes to addressing concerns from residents regarding loud and disruptive noises generated from the use of Tannerite following a pair of briefings from local law enforcement discussing their options. 

The topic dates back to April when Aaron Story, a resident who lives along Pumphouse Road asked supervisors to look into providing an ordinance that regulates the use of Tannerite, which is a brand of exploding rifle targets used as part of firearms practice made up of an oxidizer and fuel that are combined and once shot, triggers an explosion. In his remarks to county leaders, he said a neighbor’s use of the binary exploding rifle target has caused damage to property in his home, disrupts his dogs, and, according to Story, led to two other neighbors moving due to the noise and disruptions. 

After being directed by state officials back to the local level, Story sought some form of regulation regarding the use of Tannerite and like binary exploding rifle targets, something county officials researched over the last several months, bringing in Prince George Police Chief Keith Early and the county’s attorney to weigh in.

During a pair of presentations during the spring and summer, Early explained the binary explosives are legal to be used as the components – the fuel and oxidizer – are not regulated when they are packaged separately but, they become explosive once mixed but require a large amount of energy to trigger said explosion. He added that these types of targets are easily acquired both online and in sporting goods stores and it is legal to possess for personal, non-business use. 

“It takes a lot of kinetic energy to make the chemicals, once mixed, explode,” he detailed. “That is usually accomplished by a high-power rifle shot. Most handguns will not ignite these two components.”

The legality of possession was echoed by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in an October 2014 opinion, where, in response to a request from Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney William Davenport, he concluded “while Tannerite is an explosive material” as defined by state law, “its use or possession is not illegal so long as the use or possession is for a lawful purpose, such as the recreation use for which it is intended,” as a rifle target.

During his May report, Chief Early explained it was not uncommon for him to hear binary explosions like Tannerite from those in the area target shooting as he explained the potential dangers from the use of targets, including the explosion itself, shrapnel, and even brush fires.

While not offering a specific recommendation, Early did provide details of the county’s firearms ordinance to supervisors as part of their fact-finding mission, explaining to leaders that it “could be relevant” as gunfire “is the ignition source” for the binary explosive.

“If you wanted to take any action to control the explosions, one option would be to control the place where someone could pull the trigger on a firearm,” he said. “Right now, Tannerite and binary explosives themselves are legal. There is no local ordinance or requirement related to discharge or shooting of firearms for target practice for recreational shooting related to distance. There are a lot of state laws that get factored in with reckless handling but, as long as you are handling a firearm safely and you’re not violating state law, currently in Prince George County, it is legal to recreation shoot basically anywhere in the county. There are no distance requirements in our local firearms ordinance, except for purposes of hunting.”

When asked about the frequency of calls for service related to binary explosives, Early said the department “occasionally” gets complaints about their use.

“It is certainly not frequent but we have fielded some complaints about these types of explosives,” he said. “We field complaints of various firearms calls for service frequently, and it’s a myriad of those.”

The police chief added, he believes the number of complaints related to binary explosives may rise as the county continues to grow.

“As the county progresses, expands and more homeowners move into the county, complaints are likely to increase,” Early remarked. 

Following the chief’s detailed report, the matter was added to supervisors’ agenda for their retreat at the Central Wellness Center several weeks ago, with Board Vice-Chairman Floyd Brown, Jr reiterating that he doesn’t want to affect anyone’s Second Amendment rights and his concerns center around the noise generated from the binary explosive’s use as they reviewed information provided by Chief Early that showed an “indirect way to affect explosions caused by binary explosives could be to control the location where you pull a firearm,” which could be done by a local ordinance with distance regulations “as it relates to occupied dwellings or structures.”

“If you don’t word it that way, then you are affecting people who are just discharging a firearm and this is not meant to step on anybody’s Second Amendment rights,” Brown remarked. “It is just people who are living close to that kind of discharge are feeling a huge effect from it.”

While no formal language or proposals came out of either work session, then-County Attorney Steven Micas said the office would look at what language could be generated, explaining to supervisors the intent would be to “regulate the discharge of firearms in conjunction with the use of a secondary explosion.”

“You’re not really regulating the Tannerite,” Micas said to county leaders. “You are regulating the discharge and the location of the discharge of a weapon if it is done in conjunction with a secondary explosion. Tannerite is technically not an explosive.” 

On the company’s website, the makers of Tannerite explain that their binary targets “fall under the same Federal laws as black powder and all other explosives that are exempt for sporting purposes from the federal regulations of commercial explosives in their unmixed form,” while stressing that users should check and follow all applicable local, state, and Federal laws regarding their use. 

In addition, they said, echoing Attorney General Herring’s legal opinion, the binary explosive “must be mixed and used for non-commercial purposes as a shot indicator only” and suggest if users are living close to others to reach out to them to let them know what they are doing. 

“Be sure to use in a remote area only and respect the adjoining property owner’s right to tranquility,” a portion of Tannerite’s FAQ page detailed. “As always, respect local noise ordinances and always use Tannerite … Binary Rifle Targets as directed by the manufacturer.”

Currently, it is unknown when any proposed language will be presented to supervisors for consideration.

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