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Rocket Hobbyists Prevail Over Feds In Court Case 546

Ellis D. Tripp writes "DC District Court judge Reggie Walton has finally ruled in the 9-year old court case pitting the model rocketry community against the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ruling is a 'slam dunk' for the rocketry community, stating that the BATFE ignored scientific evidence and overstepped its bounds by classifying ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) as an 'explosive.' Effective immediately, the BATFE has no legal jurisdiction over hobby rocket motors, and a federal Low Explosives User's Permit will no longer be needed in order to purchase APCP motors. The full text of the Judge's decision is reproduced at the link."
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Rocket Hobbyists Prevail Over Feds In Court Case

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  • by Arthur Grumbine ( 1086397 ) * on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:01PM (#27218617) Journal
    This next season of Mythbusters is gonna be AWESOME!!
  • Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nightfire-unique ( 253895 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:04PM (#27218641)

    For most of my adult life it felt like we were constantly taking steps backward. It's nice to see freedom win over "safety," for a change. May this be the first of many rulings that empower people and encourage the academic spirit.

    • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:34PM (#27218953) Journal
      Yes, but if only it hadn't taken so long. For something that seems like such an obvious ruling (and the judge said so as well), it sure took a long time. Justice that takes 9 years can hardly be called justice.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by camperdave ( 969942 )
        Justice that takes 9 years can hardly be called justice.

        ... just ice?
      • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @10:37PM (#27220753)
        From my perspective there's still no justice in this case. If you or I overstep the bounds of what's legal, we go to jail and/or get fined. When a government agency oversteps their bounds, they just get told, "don't do that again". There needs to be some serious negative reinforcement there to prevent creative interpretations or sheer disregard of the law by those in power.
        • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity&yahoo,com> on Monday March 16, 2009 @10:45PM (#27220799) Homepage

          Actually they weren't even told not to do it again. The rule could be recreated provided the BATFE can comply with administrative procedures for classifying APCP as an explosive. As others have noted, that would be very difficult since APCP isn't really explosive.

          I guess my point is when citizens break BATFE rules, they go to prison, get fined or get probation(or all 3). When the BATFE violates it's own rules, they're simply told "No." and given another shot to do it the way they were supposed to.

          • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:17AM (#27223121) Homepage

            This is so important. There's no penalties for passing unconstitutional laws, violating oaths of office, or overstepping legal authority. It kinds defeats the purpose of having limitations on power, if there is no penalty for violating those limitations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:14PM (#27218737)
    The ATF announced that they are going to refocus on conducting raids on wacky religious leader's compounds... Because they are much better at doing that.
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#27218773) Homepage Journal
    People obsess over their right to bear arms, and I do no dispute the inherent importance of killing an animal or blowing off the head of your fellow person, but how long has it been since such primitive weapons as promoted by the NRA has actually really defended a country. The Iraqis defended themselves with IED. The Israeli's depend on missiles. In both cases an understanding of explosives is important, and in the later case the people must understand rocketry. sure, in some sense the NRA is right. If there is enough cannon fodder around with simple to use guns, of the type they support, battles can be won. This is proved by the weapons smuggled into Mexico from the US and used against the Mexican legal authorities. But really, such things are toys and the people who obsess over them are just playing games. The real action is rocketry, and anyone who infringes on our right to practice rocketry is risking the security of the free state.

    Let the toy soldiers wear their camouflage underwear and play with their guns. Those of us in the know see the key in chemistry, physics, and the willingness to build a gadget that will solve the problem. For better or worse.

    • by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot.castlesteelstone@us> on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:30PM (#27218911) Homepage Journal

      how long has it been since such primitive weapons as promoted by the NRA has actually really defended a country. .... The Israeli's depend on missiles

      Take away the Israel's rifles, and I guarantee that the terrorists will stop resorting to bombs. They'll just get the rifles, and make sort work of anyone who gets in their way.

      A rifle is used EVERY DAY to defend a country. It's only one tool in the box, but it's an important one. I wager that, still, more battles were won by rifles in Iraq or Afghanistan than were won by missile strikes.

    • by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:31PM (#27218921)
      The 2nd amendment guarantees your right to a militia. What's needed is a new amendment to guarantee your right to a strategic arms program.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:58PM (#27219251)

        As a mad scientist, I wholeheartedly agree!

      • by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @10:11PM (#27220543)

        The 2nd amendment guarantees your right to a militia. What's needed is a new amendment to guarantee your right to a strategic arms program.

        Actually, that was all but explicitly understood until fairly recently when anti-gun crazies took power. People are all too much in a hurry to forget, not so many years ago, your neighbour might have a CANNON in his garage for the local militia. His neighbour, in turn, might have a on and so on. Let's not also forget many powerful warships were actually privately held, and in many cases, owned by private merchant consortiums. Please keep in mind, warships were the strategic arm of their day.

        Even as recently after WWII, it was common for soldiers to retire with their weapon - which include BAR machine guns, .45 cal "Tommy Guns", and .45 cal pistols. Additionally, during WWII, civilians living on strategic coast lines were trained and ISSUED artillery to be used against any enemy ships or submarines found off the coast. And let's not forget CAP pilots, flying privately owned aircraft, dropped military issued bombs on U-boats off the coast, inside US waters.

        The simple fact is, our Constitution guarantees military grade weapons are to be available to militia. Its only been in fairly recent times anti-gun, anti-Constitution, anti-second amendment nuts have been empowered enough to spit on our forefathers with the ignorant applause of the majority. Simple fact is, our forefathers would be the first to spit in the face of these anti-gun, crazy people.

        And to clarify, many, many different types of weapons are categorized as "strategic arms" - which even includes air planes. Simple fact is, according to our forefathers and the US Constitution, militias have this right. And up until not so many years ago, this right was implicitly understood.

        • by GNT ( 319794 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @11:48PM (#27221223)

          NO. THE PEOPLE HAVE THIS RIGHT. The militia aspect of the 2nd Am is a subordinate inclusive clause, whose presence or absence does not change a RIGHT of the PEOPLE.

        • by illegalcortex ( 1007791 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @11:52PM (#27221235)

          Simple fact is, our forefathers would be the first to spit in the face of these anti-gun, crazy people.

          Though likely a good number of them would also be the first to spit in the face of black's or women's right's activists.

          This has always been one of my least favorite lines of defense. Why not base your arguments on what we find to be right at the current time? The founding father's certainly don't have a monopoly on good ideas, and they never had to fit them into conditions that exist in the present.

    • Rockets don't end wars. Soldiers storming into a Hezbollah or Hamas stronghold will. Rockets are great for starting wars, but only soldiers on the ground can end them.

    • by MrSteve007 ( 1000823 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:56PM (#27219235)
      My good friend is a Stryker brigade C/O. He told me that they deal with and are hit by IED's on a frequent basis, and their APC's take it quite well. He's lost far more guys from snipers. When doing house-to-house searches nothing tips him off more than a quality SKS with a scope.

      Because of snipers using these weapons, they have to essentially 'corral' their strykers, and shoot smoke in the air when they 'mount and dismount.' The main personal hatch is at the rear. Without these tactics, they're picked off one-by-one when exiting. He said they only made that mistake once.

      I'm not downplaying the dangers of IED's but don't disregard the danger of one quality shooter, with a 60 year-old weapon.
      • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @09:36PM (#27220255) Homepage

        You mean to say, don't underestimate the dangers of the native population using guerrilla tactics against an invading force.

        They get a bonus for knowing the land. They get a bonus for not identifying themselves as combatants. They get a bonus for being able to accurately identify their enemies, who are loud and obvious. They get a bonus for being sneaky.

        The odds are stacked against us, even with all of our equipment and training.

        We can take care of any traditional army in the world without much trouble, barring larger countries like China and Russia. We cannot, however, easily quash a pissed off and unorganized army in a small shit hole of a country. Russia learned this years ago, as they made the same mistake, and they were better prepared than we were!

        The moral of the story is that snipers, IEDs, and guerrilla warfare, are all coming together in places like Iraq and Afganistan. A single civilian with a rifle or a 150mm shell can take out an entire squad of Marines and still make it home for lunch.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          We cannot, however, easily quash a pissed off and unorganized army in a small shit hole of a country.

          Sure we can. If we decided so, we have a number of options which can easily quash all resistance in Iraq. Exercising those options would require anywhere from about 20 minutes to a few weeks, depending on which option is used.

          If we showed exactly the same level of care for innocent bystanders as the insurgents in Iraq do, we could end this as quickly as we desired.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      One addendum to your point. Back in the day, when the Clinton administration was pushing clipper and crypto regulation, there was not a peep from the NRA. Janet Fricken' Reno said that NIST and the Department of the Treasury were going to be escrow keyholders for all encrypted communications in the US. Seriously. And, IIRC, crypto was already regulated as a munition at the time.

      Just think about that. Janet Reno said that the Department of the Treasury would have its grubby hands all over something that w
      • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:34PM (#27219645)
        Perhaps you didn't notice what "NRA" stands for - it stands for National Rifle Association (not, for example, National Rights Association). Why are you surprised that they don't spend their members' money on issues outside their charter? Other organizations like the ACLU defend a broader range of rights (why, however, the ACLU generally pretends the second amendment doesn't exist perplexes me).
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Last I heard, the NRA was also interested in pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and the like, not just rifles. 2nd amendment stuff generally. If the feds say that something is A) a munition and B) not allowed, that would seem to be enough to fall under their purview.
        • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @10:11PM (#27220547) Journal

          why, however, the ACLU generally pretends the second amendment doesn't exist perplexes me

          This is the main reason I'm not a card carrying member of the ACLU. Bunch of fucking hypocrites.... American Civil Liberties Union, eh?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by theodicey ( 662941 )

          I think you've answered your question. Why should the ACLU lift a flying finger to protect the 2nd Amendment? The NRA has a laserlike focus on the 2nd, has more resources, and doesn't give a damn about the rest of the Bill of Rights.

          They're actually very complementary organizations, but don't tell that to an NRA member, because he'll probably go for the rifle in his pickup's gun rack.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by uncqual ( 836337 )

            Well, actually, I don't think that's the reason. (Of course, my question was rhetorical as I know the answer).

            It's because they disagree [] with the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment refers to an individual right -- preferring to embrace a modern notion, never endorsed by the Supreme Court, that it's some sort of "collective" right. It's odd that an organization which so vigorously (usually rightfully) defends individual rights would choose to read the word people as state in one, and only one, place in

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Atario ( 673917 )

          the ACLU generally pretends the second amendment doesn't exist

          O RLY? []

          I think what you meant to say was that their understanding of the 2nd Amendment differs from yours and is therefore invalid.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by npsimons ( 32752 ) *

          (why, however, the ACLU generally pretends the second amendment doesn't exist perplexes me).

          The ACLU doesn't pretend the second amendment doesn't exist; they are neutral in regard to it, and take the interpretation that it's a collective right and not an individual one (more details []). I also think they stay off second amendment cases because other groups (I can think of two of the top of my head) are much more well funded and hyper focused on it.

          The ACLU will generally help those who ask for it when they t

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by uncqual ( 836337 )

            The ACLU doesn't pretend the second amendment doesn't exist; they are neutral in regard to it

            As your own post seems to point out (and as I did [] a few posts up), they are NOT neutral with regard to Second Amendment. In fact, they openly and specifically state that they disagree with the SCOTUS interpretation in Heller -- which is, I believe, the only SCOTUS precedent that addresses the bogus "collective rights" position that the ACLU takes. Because they take a discredited position to support the claim that "neither the possession of guns nor the regulation of guns raises a civil liberties issue", the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 )

        Just think about that. Janet Reno said that the Department of the Treasury would have its grubby hands all over something that was classified as a munition, and the NRA didn't utter a word, even on general "we hate the Clinton administration" principal. It is undeniably the case that guns are very effective tools; but the 2nd amendment lobby is, I think, rather myopic. They get admirably worked up about specifically gun related stuff; but are oddly passive on relevant ancillary issues. Without encryption, that "well regulated militia" isn't going to last long against the Feds.

        Obligatory XKCD: []

  • Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stonedcat ( 80201 )

    I can't believe this was ever actually up for debate.
    Seriously.... model rocket engines..... ya know lets just ban shoes since they could be used for terrorist acts.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Brett Buck ( 811747 )

      Some of the motors are 6" in diameter and 5 feet long and weigh a couple hundred pounds and have a thousand pounds of thrust. I generally agree that APCP is not explosive but it's not silly to at least think of some sort of regulation. These aren't black powder 1/2A6-2s from Estes.


      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        But similarly, who can afford them? They aren't just sold for $10 at Wal-Mart. And generally those who can afford them and buy them will be the people who know much more about rockets then either you or me. The thought that because these things are regulated will suddenly make them be only in the hands of those who are good is a myth, it will only make getting them a pain. Remember 9/11. The planes weren't hijacked by anything that is regulated (or hopefully will be regulated) they were hijacked by boxcutte
        • But similarly, who can afford them? They aren't just sold for $10 at Wal-Mart. And generally those who can afford them and buy them will be the people who know much more about rockets then either you or me.

          No, the people who will buy them are the people who can afford them. Being able to afford them is no guarantor of knowledge or common sense. Consider the number of people able to afford GPS navigators - and follow them off into la la land as has been reported here repeatedly on Slashdot. Consider the a

      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:44PM (#27219083)

        Because something is potentially dangerous it needs to be regulated?

        God, I hate that mentality.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SpartaChris ( 609999 )
        We already have regulation. We have FAA regulations, NFPA regulations and our own regulations. We don't need any more.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by geekboy642 ( 799087 )

      In all fairness, model rocket engines (above the Estes A-D types) are seriously nothing to play around with. A poorly-made engine could easily explode, and licensing the larger ones in the interest of public safety isn't a bad thing. But still, I think the government has far bigger problems to deal with than mis-labeling a rocket propellant and ruining hobbies.

      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:42PM (#27219039)

        The large 5 five foot long 6" in diameter rocket motors that you are talking about are only done by professionalsm, are extremely rare, and are generally not for sale to the public. Before launching something of that size, there are other agencies that have to be coordinated with such as the FAA who require distances, maps, trajectories and all sorts of information. I am not up to that level yet, but I'm close to that level. The biggest concern for the rocketry community with this lawsuit is that people were not able to aquire a rocket motor because of the paperwork involved in getting the license. Many people simply couldn't because they lived within 75 feet of a neighbor.
        My biggest thrill was watching us give a demonstration to the ATF when they visited us, we lit the rocket motor (or explosive as they refer to it) and then watched all these agents lean forward to look at this thing on the ground that was burning like a road flare.

        • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:11PM (#27219391)

          Those are not being used by professionals and certainly ARE available for sale to the public. I have been to plenty of HPR launches and "professional" is not part of the equation.

                I am not arguing the BATFE case because I think they were wrong. But with this decision, the only policing to be done will be self-policing by Tripoli and NAR. And my actual point is that the original poster trivialized the entire issue. It's arguable point, but it's not trivial.

                  After having seen numerous LMR and HPR models shot through civilian roofs, carports, leave large divots in blacktop, and generally shot into uncontrolled areas and over crowds, with full oversight from the NAR and Tripoli, I really don't think self-policing is viable. I mentioned this on rec.models.rockets a few years ago and nearly got lynched, I briefly exchanged emails with Mark Bundick on the topic, but while several people saw the issue, the LMR/HPR crowd seems bound and determined to keep going until they kill someone, and I wasn't about to tilt at that windmill.


  • BATFE is redundant (Score:5, Informative)

    by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:29PM (#27218901)
    The BATFE is the most redundant element of the US government. The FBI covers the B, the F and the E. The FDA covers the A and the T. What's left?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The BATF (when did they add the E anyway?) was never supposed to be a law enforcement agency. They were created as revenuers, all they were originally supposed to do is make sure the moonshiner's were paying their booze tax.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:08PM (#27219359) Homepage

      The BATFE is the most redundant element of the US government. The FBI covers the B, the F and the E. The FDA covers the A and the T. What's left?

      Yeah, as somebody once mentioned, it's much more reasonable to have it as the name of a store rather than the name of a government agency. I'd go there...

    • by PachmanP ( 881352 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:25PM (#27219553)
      Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be a convenience store not a government agency.
  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:38PM (#27218989)
    We still need an explosives license for APCP here, and it is a lot harder for us. FFS, even the largest estes black powder motors can't be sold because they aren't CE approved
  • as a long time rocketeer, it's nice to see us win one.
  • by SpartaChris ( 609999 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @07:54PM (#27219209) Homepage
    Man, what a great day. It reminds me of the quote by Margaret Meade: "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." The more important issue is that a Federal Judge just told a government agency that they were no longer allowed to impede on the rights and freedoms of private citizens "just because." So while it's a tremendous day for rocketry, it's also a great day for the American People at large.
  • This was a smackdown (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NemoinSpace ( 1118137 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:09PM (#27219367) Journal
    I found this to be a hollow victory. The bureaucrats at ATF were just too full of themselves to respond to the order of the court to clarify themselves the first time. So when they came back and told the Judge "we've explained enough" the Judge sent them packing. They came this '' close to making criminals of 12 year olds. They won't make the same mistake next time...(but their asshole lawyers probably will)

    United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. - 437 F.3d 75 In defense of its unbounded comparative analysis, ATFE insists that it had no burden to make more particularized findings. The agency concedes that it "certainly could have conducted experiments or otherwise researched burn rates specific to APCP used in model rocket motors to bolster its conclusion that APCP is capable of deflagration," but claims that "nothing in the OCCA or the APA required it to do so." ATFE's Br. at 15. Unsurprisingly, then, rather than resting on concrete evidence to support its judgment, ATFE simply points to evidence relating to the properties of "rocket propellants" and claims deference on the basis of its presumed technical expertise and experience. The purported evidence cited by the agency does not support its determination in this case, and the cry for deference is hollow.

  • by cutecub ( 136606 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:26PM (#27219555)

    Mentos and Pepsi.


  • ATFE Blows Itself Up (Score:5, Informative)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:51PM (#27219811) Journal

    In the figurative sense certainly, by hiring an 'expert' to do their testing who knew nothing about the field, produced results that were nonsensical and pretty much conducted scientific fraud at the behest of ATFE. Proper expert testimony was provided by rocket motor manufacturers who had worked in the field for the government and/or contractors, still consulted to the government, and worked on other projects like SpaceShip 1. Why ATFE didn't see this coming is a mystery.

    They also nearly blew themselves up literally. They 'required' one of the motor manufacturers to sell them motors at market price (he had initially declined). They rented a van, loaded up their rockets and headed to the desert to do some testing. They intended to prove that high powered rockets could be used to bring down an aircraft. They ignored the rules that virtually all rocketers follow regarding distance between launcher and people, rockets and motors. They launched one out of the back of the van. The back blast lit their other motors in the van. Their rented van proceeded to burn merrily to the ground. They denied it, but it was proven otherwise. They started to try to get a gag order but apparently used their one and only Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious on this rather than one the case as a whole.

    As for other regulation, high powered rocketry has been well regulated all along, just as its little cousin, model rocketry, is. The rules originated with G. Harry Stine, one time range safety officer at White Sands and pioneer of model rocketry. The high powered rules evolved over time, and have been considered acceptable in development and content by the FAA, the National Fire Protection Association, and similar relevant agencies. We have been trusted for 50 years to develop and follow our own regulations suitable to these agencies. Now we can ignore the arbitrary, stifling, baseless rules concocted by ATFE (put into force without due process) and carry on another 50 years. The regulations we have in place cover all airframes and power systems up through 200,000 newtons, where the FAA's office of space transportation takes over.

    The standing regulations for high powered rocketry are available the National Association of Rocketry at [] Only high powered motors were involved in the ruling. Model rockets (including "large model rockets", up to 3.3 pounds loaded and 4 ounces of propellant) were not involved.

    As for APCP, although it produces a large amount of exhaust gas which can be channeled through a nozzle to produce thrust (see the space shuttle's boosters for an example), it burns at about the rate of a piece of paper. Thus while it might "conflagerate" it is hardly worth bothering with as an explosive. It is actually more profitable to use small model rocket motors for explosives as they are black powder.

    NAR #28965, High Power Certification level 1
    Rocketeer since June 1964

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson