Copyright 2008 -  2018  Edward S. Armstrong, Jr.





The following information relates to Federal explosives laws only. This information is not meant as legal advice. For exact information contact your attorney or local ATF office. Many States have some explosives laws. Check with your State and local law enforcement officers about your State laws. All persons must comply with Federal and State explosives laws. Violations can result in severe criminal and civil penalties. See Findlaw for specific statutes and regulations. See ATF for further information.  The laws cited herein are mostly from Title 18 United States Code, e.g., 18 U.S.C. Section 844(i), unless otherwise described, and the Federal regulations are from Title 27 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), Part 555.





Back to Index Page







            1.         Lawful use

            2.         Criminal Use

            3.         Regulation by Federal Government

            4.         Explosives List & Definition

            5.         National Bomb Data Center

            6.         Storage of Explosives

            7.         Government Inspection Power

            8.         Plastic Explosive and Detection Agent



B.        LICENSEE


            1.         License

            2.         Records of Acquisition and Disposition

            3.         Storage Facilities and Inventories

            4.         Report of Theft or Loss to Government

            5.         Inspection of Records and Storage Facilities by Government

            6.         Distribution of Explosives



C.        USER PERMITTEE - Required for Interstate Purchase and Travel


            1.         User Permit

            2.         Records, Storage Facilities, Inventories

            3.         Inspection by Government

            4.         Report of Theft or Loss to Government

            5.         Distribution of Surplus Explosives



D.        LIMITED PERMITTEE – Intrastate Purchase and Travel Only


            1.         Limited Permit – 6 purchases per 12 months only

            2.         Limited Permittee Transaction Record

            3.         Storage Facilities Required

            4.         Report of Theft or Loss of Explosives

            5.         Distribution of Surplus Explosives

            6.         User-Limited Permittee – 1 use only





            1.         May Not Acquire Explosives (2003)

            2.         May Not Transport or Ship Explosives (2003)

            3.         Must Report a Theft or Loss of Explosives  (for explosives previously acquired)





            1.         Under Indictment or Information for a Felony

            2.         Felon

            3.         Fugitive from Justice

            4.         Unlawful User Of  - or-  Addicted to Controlled Substance

            5.         Adjudicated Mental Defective – or - Committed to Mental Institution

            6.         Illegal Alien

            7.         Dishonorably Discharged from Armed Forces

            8.         Renounced U.S. Citizenship






            1.         Department of Transportation or Homeland Security

            2.         Certain Medicines

            3.         U.S., States, and Political Subdivisions

            4.         Small Arms Ammunition     

            5.         50 Pounds or Less of Black Powder

            6.         U.S. Military

            7 .        Fireworks

            8.         Relief from Disabilities

            9.         Plastic Explosive



H.        EXPORTATION - United States Department of State 





            1.         Engaging in Business without a License

            2.         Receiving Explosives without a License or Permit

            3.         Transporting Explosives without a License or Permit

            4.         Distributing Explosives to Non-Licensee or Non-Permittee





            1.         Solicit Explosives for a Bombing

            2.         Conspire to Commit a Bombing

            3.         Steal Explosives

            4.         Lie to Acquire Explosives

            5.         Receive Explosives

            6.         Transfer Explosives

            7.         Prohibited Person with Explosives

            8.         Non-Prohibited Person with Explosives with no License or Permit    

            9.         Material Support for Bombers

            10.       Teach Making of Bomb

            11.       Make Bomb

            12.       Transport Bomb to Target

            13.       Mail Bomb to Target

            14.       Airport

            15.       Bomb Threat

            16.       Aircraft

            17.       Plastic Explosive



K.        BOMBINGS


              1.         Use, Carry, or Possess a Bomb to Commit a Federal Crime of Violence

              2.         Bomb Federal Property

              3.         Bomb Institution/Organization Receiving Federal Financial Assistance

              4.         Bomb Business Property

              5.         Bomb Public Place

              6.         Use Explosive to Commit Any Federal Felony

              7.         Carry Explosive During the Commission of Any Federal Felony 




            1.         Nuclear

            2.         Biological

            3.         Chemical             

            4.         Civil Disorder

            5.         Missile System to Destroy Aircraft

            6.         Radiological Dispersal Devices





             1.         Lawful Use  

                          Explosives have been and are presently used in many legal applications: mining, highway construction

                          (U.S. interstate system), railway construction (U.S. Transcontinental railway), waterway construction

                          (Panama Canal), building demolition, holiday displays, military devices (laser guided bomb, cruise missile),

                          law enforcement device (distraction device for high risk warrants), firearms ammunition, etc.  


            2.         Criminal Use 

                         Explosives are also used for criminal purposes: 1993 New York City World Trade Center truck bombing
                        and the Oklahoma City Federal building truck bombing, etc. 


            3.         Regulation by Federal Government 

                         Since explosives can cause great damage if used accidentally, negligently or criminally, the Federal

                         government maintains strict controls over explosives use. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms

                         and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Department of Justice, regulates the explosives industry and issues licenses

                         and permits for lawful uses, ATF.


                         The Department of Transportation regulates the methods of transporting explosives in the United States.
                        The DOT also decides if a new explosive may be imported or manufactured in the U.S. If the new explosive
                        is too dangerous to be safely transported, it will not be approved for importation, manufacture or sale. 


            4.         Explosives and Bomb Definitions


                         a.   The Attorney General (ATF) must publish yearly in the Federal Register a list of explosives
                        regulated by Federal law, § 841 (d).  Explosives Definition = Any chemical compound mixture or device,

                        The primary or common purpose of which is to function by explosion; the term includes, but is not limited to – 

                         Dynamite, and other high explosives, black powder, pellet powder, initiating explosives, detonators,

                         safety fuses, squibs, detonating cord, igniter cord, and igniters, §§ 841 (d), 555.11, 555.23


                        b.  For purposes of bombing statutes: §§ 844 (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), and 842 (p), the definition of explosive

                         means: gunpowders, powders used for blasting, all forms of high explosives, blasting materials, fuses (other

                         than electric circuit breakers), detonators, and other detonating agents, smokeless powders, other explosive
                        or incendiary devices within the meaning of paragraph (5) of Section 232 of Title 18, and any chemical

                        compounds, mechanical mixture, or device that contains any oxidizing and combustible units, or other
                        ingredients in such proportions, quantities, or packing that ignition by fire, by friction, by concussion, by
                        percussion, or by detonation of the compound, mixture, or device or any part thereof may cause an

                         (This definition is found in § 844 (j). It includes more explosives than included under section "a,"
                        above. Section "a" definition pertains to explosives that require licenses and permits from ATF. Section "b"
                        definition includes section "a" explosives and other explosives (e.g., ammonium nitrate fuel oil mixtures)
used in criminal cases).   


                         c.   Definition of Bomb (Destructive Device), § 921 (a)(4)(A&C) - The definition of a bomb means any
                        explosive, incendiary or poison gas bomb - or any combination of parts either designed or intended for use
                        in converting any device into any bomb from which a bomb may be readily assembled.  



            5.         National Bomb Data Center 

                         The Attorney General (ATF) is authorized to create an Arson/Bomb data center. All Federal agencies
                        must report such incidents to the center and State and local authorities may do so voluntarily, § 846 (b). 


             6.         Storage of Explosives 

                         Any person who possesses explosives must store the explosives in compliance with regulations
                        promulgated by the ATF, § 843 (b), 27 C.F.R. 555.201-224. 


            7.         Government Inspection Power 

                         a.      The Attorney General (ATF) is authorized to inspect the site of any accident or fire where  

                                  explosives were suspected of being involved, § 846.  

                         b.      ATF is authorized to inspect the records and storage facilities of licensees and permittees.
                        c.      ATF may enter into or upon any property where explosive materials have been used, are
                                 suspected of having been used, or have been found in an otherwise unauthorized location, § 555.31. 


             8.         Plastic Explosive and Detection Agent 

                         a.        Definition of Plastic Explosive, § 841 (q). 

                         b.        Definition of Detection Agent, § 841 (p). 

                         c.        The manufacture, importation, bringing in, exportation, shipping, transporting, transferring, receiving
                                  or possessing a plastic explosive that does not contain a detection agent is a violation of Federal law,
                                   §§ 842 (l) – (o), severe penalties. 



B.        LICENSEE  


             1.         A person who intends to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in explosives
                         must first apply for a license from the ATF, § 842 (a)(1). 


                         a.        A criminal background check will be conducted on each applicant and each employee authorized
                                   by the applicant to possess explosives, §§ 843 (a) & (h).    

                        b.        An applicant must have business premises and approved explosives storage facilities before a
                                   license may be issued, § 843 (b)(3) & (4)(A). 

                        c.        A person who engages in the explosives business without a license commits a felony crime and if
                                   convicted can receive up to 10 years in Federal prison, § 842 (a)(1) (e.g., making and selling M-80,
                                   M-100, M-250 and M-1000 explosive devices). 

                         d.        An applicant who knowingly lies to ATF to obtain a license or permit commits a felony crime and if
                                   convicted can receive up to 10 years in Federal prison, § 842 (a)(2). 


            2.         A licensee must keep records of the:


                         a.        Acquisition of explosives: date of acquisition, manufacturer’s name, manufacturer’s marks of
                                   identification, quantity, description and size, and  

                        b.        Disposition of explosives: date of sale, description of explosives, name of purchaser, license or
                                   permit number of the purchaser, address, place of storage of explosives, and intended use of
                                   explosives, § 842 (f), 27 C.F.R. 555.124. 

                        c.        Licensee who willfully fails to keep records: § 842 (f), 10 years. 

                        d.        Licensee who knowingly keeps false records: § 842 (g), 10 years. 

                        e.        Purchaser who lies to a licensee: § 842 (a)(2), 10 years.  


            3.         A licensee must maintain storage facilities approved by the ATF to safely store explosives, § 843 (b)(4).


                         a.         Licensee must conduct a daily inventory of each storage facility, 27 C.F.R. 555.127. 

                        b.         Licensee who stores explosives unlawfully: § 842 (j), 1 year. 


            4.        A licensee must report the theft or loss of explosives from his stock to the ATF and local law enforcement
                       within 24 hours of the discovery: § 844 (p) (theft), 5 years or § 842 (k) (loss), 1 year. 


             5.        A licensee must allow the ATF to inspect its records and explosives inventory, § 843 (f). 


             6.        A licensee may distribute explosives to a:


                        a.        Another licensee, or  

                        b.        User permittee (interstate purchases and travel), or 

                        c.        Limited permittee (6 intrastate purchases per 12 months only), 

                        d.        User-limited permittee (one intrastate purchase only),  


                       A licensee may not distribute explosives to a:


                        a.        Non-licensee, non-permittee 

                        b.        Person under 21 years of age, 

                        c.        Prohibited person (see Section F).                       


                        Violations: §§ 842 (b) & (d), 10 years. 


            NOTE: A person who is not a licensee, user permittee, limited permittee or user-limited permittee may not

             purchase, receive, ship or transport explosives, § 842 (a)(3) & (4), 10 years.





             1.        An applicant (e.g., individual, company, partnership, corporation) who intends to purchase explosives from a

                         licensee (FEL) across State lines or transport explosives across State lines must obtain a user permit from

                         the ATF, § 842 (a)(3)(A), up to 10 years if violated. Criminal background check will be conducted of
                        the applicant, § 843 (h).


             2.        A user permittee must keep records of its acquisition of explosives, have proper storage facilities, keep
                        accurate physical inventories, and maintain records of the disposition / use of explosives,

                         § 842 (f), § 555.125, 10 Yrs.


              3.        A user permittee must allow the ATF to conduct inspections of its records and explosives inventory,
                        § 843 (f).


             4.        A user permittee must report the theft or loss of explosives from his stock to the ATF and local law
                        enforcement within 24 hours, § 844 (p) (theft), 5 years or § 842 (k) (loss), 1 year.


              5.        A user permittee may distribute surplus explosives to another licensee or permittee, § 842 (b).


                        A user-permittee may not distribute explosives to a:


                       a.         Non-licensee or non-permittee, § 842 (b), 10 years. 

                        b.         Person under 21 years of age, § 842 (d), 10 years. 

                       c.         Prohibited person, § 842 (d), 10 years.





            1.        A person who intends to purchase explosives solely within his State of residency must first apply for
                       a limited permit from the ATF, § 842 (a)(3)(A), up to 10 years if violated. A criminal background
                       check will be conducted on the applicant § 843 h.


                       a.         A limited permit is good for 6 purchases of explosives from a FEL or user permittee in his State
                                   within a 12 month period. ATF will issue coupons to the limited permittee to use during the

                       b.         A limited permittee is not allowed to purchase explosives in a State other than his State of residency
                                   and is not allowed to transport explosives across State lines, § 842 (a)(4)(A&B), 10 years.



            2.        A limited permittee must complete a Limited Permittee Transaction Record and present an
                       Intrastate Purchase of Explosives Coupon when purchasing explosives from a licensee or

                        permittee § 555.126.


                        a.         Lying to licensee or permittee, § 842 (a)(2), 10 years. 

                        b.         The limited permittee must enter into his records a description and quantity of explosives
                                   purchased, § 555.126 (b)(3). 

                        c.         A limited permittee must take, at least annually, an inventory of explosives, § 555.125 (b)(2).


            3.        A limited permittee must have a safe storage facility for explosives, § 843 (b)(4). 


            4.        A limited permittee must report the theft or loss of explosives to the ATF and local law enforcement
                       within 24 hours of the discovery, § 844 (p) (theft), 5 years, § 842 (k) (loss), 1 year. 


            5.        A limited permittee may only dispose of surplus explosives to a licensee or other permittee,

                        not to any other person, § 842 (b), 10 years.   


            6.        User-Limited Permittee – very rare! Used for one intrastate transaction only. Disposal of surplus

                       explosives to a licensee or user permittee only. 





            1.        A non-licensee or non-permittee may not acquire explosives, § 842 (a)(3)(A), 10 years.


                       A person who lawfully acquired explosives prior to the new law (2003) may continue to lawfully
                       possess the explosives. 


             2.         A non-licensee or non-permittee may not transport or ship explosives intrastate or interstate,
                       § 842 (a)(3)(A), 10 years.


                       To dispose of surplus explosives lawfully obtained prior to the 2003 law, such person must have a licensee or
                        permittee visit his premises and take the surplus explosives, § 842 (a)(3)(B), 10 years. 


            3.        A non-licensee or non-permittee must report the theft or loss of his explosives to the ATF and local law
                       enforcement within 24 hours of the discovery, § 842 (k), 1 year. 





              May not ship or transport any explosive in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, § 842 (i), 10 years.


              May not receive or possess any explosive which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign
             commerce, § 842 (i), 10 years.


              May not receive any explosive material or transport/ship any explosive material anywhere, § 842 (a)(3), 10 years.



            LIST OF PROHIBIED PERSONS, Definitions: §§ 842(i), 555.11 


             1.        Person under Indictment or Information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding
                       one year (felony),


            2.        Person who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term
                       exceeding one year (felony),


                        a.         This term does not include any Federal or State offense pertaining to antitrust violations,

                                    unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or 

                        b.         Any State offense (other than one involving a firearm or explosive) classified by the State as a

                                    misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.


            3.        Person who is a fugitive from justice,


            4.        Person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance,


            5.        Person who has been adjudicated a mental defective or committed to a mental institution,


            6.        Person who is an illegal alien (exceptions described in § 842 (i)),


            7.        Person who has a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces,


            8.        Person who has renounced his U.S. citizenship.        


                        NOTE: A prohibited person may apply to the ATF for relief from disabilities incurred by the
                       explosives laws, § 845 (b), § 555.142. See Section G, #8, below. 



G.        EXCEPTIONS – § 845 & § 555.141


            1.        Aspects of the transportation of explosive materials via railroad, water, highway, or air that pertain
                       to safety, including security, and are regulated by the Dept. of Transportation or the
                       Dept. of Homeland Security.


            2.        The use of explosive materials in medicines and medicinal agents in the forms prescribed by the
                       official U.S. Pharmacopeia, or the National Formulary.


             3.        The transportation, shipment, receipt, or importation of explosive materials for delivery to any agency
                       of the U.S. or to any State or political subdivision thereof. NOTE: storage rules do apply!


             4.        Small arms ammunition and components thereof, (e.g., smokeless powder, ammunition for pistols,
                       revolvers, rifles and shotguns).


                       A person who sells, purchases, transports or possesses these items is not required to be a

                        licensee or permittee.


                         a.         A person who is engaged in the business of importing or manufacturing ammunition
                                    is required to be licensed under the  Federal firearms laws, § 922 (a)(1)(B).  

                         b.         A person who is engaged in the business of importing or manufacturing smokeless

                                     powder is required to be licensed under the Federal explosives laws, § 842 (a)(1). 

                        c.         A prohibited person may not lawfully receive, possess, transport or ship ammunition

                                     under the Federal firearms laws, § 922 (g), 10yrs.


            5.        Black Powder and Antique Firearms


                       A license or permit is not required to purchase 50 pounds or less of commercially made black powder, 
                       percussion caps, safety and pyrotechnic fuses, quills, quick and slow matches, and friction primers -
                       intended to be used solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes - in antique firearms.


                         a.         A person who is engaged in the business of importing, manufacturing or dealing in
                                    black powder must be licensed by the ATF, § 842 (a)(1).  

                         b.         A person who purchases and transports black powder in circumstances other than
                                    number 5, above, must first obtain a license or permit from the ATF, § 842 (a)(3)(A).  


            6.         The manufacture under the regulation of the military department of the U.S. of explosive materials for,
                       or their distribution to or storage or possession by the military or naval services or other agencies of the
                       U.S. or to arsenals, navy yards, depots, or other establishments owned by, or operated by or
                       on behalf of, the U.S. 


           7.         Consumer fireworks, see § 555.141, DOT 49 C.F.R. 172.101.


                        a.         Firework containing over 2 grains of powder is not a consumer firework and does require

                                    a license or permit. Example, M-80 is usually 50 grains of powder, see Section I, below.

                                    Exception, pest control devices sold by U.S. Department of the Interior and
                                   State Departments of Natural Resources. 

                       b.         Display fireworks do require a license or permit, § 555.11. 


           8.         Relief from Disabilities, § 845 (b)


                        a.         A prohibited person may apply to the Attorney General (ATF) for relief from the prohibition

                                    against the acquisition of explosives. The Attorney General may grant relief if he determines the
                                   applicant’s record and reputation are such that he will not likely act in a manner dangerous
                                   to the public safety.  

                        b.         If a licensee or permittee is indicted or convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment
                                   for over one year, he may apply for relief and continue to conduct business until a final

                                    decision is made on the relief application. 


           9.         Plastic Explosive, § 845 (c)


                        a.         It is an affirmative defense if the proponent proves by a preponderance of the evidence
                                   that the plastic explosive consisted of a small amount of plastic explosive intended for
                                   and used solely in lawful research, development, testing of new or modified explosive materials,
                                   training in explosives detection / development, testing of explosives detection equipment,

                                    or forensic science purposes. 

                       b.        See certain military/police applications, § 845 (c)(2).





          1.          A permit is required from the United States Department of State to export explosives,
                       22 U.S.C. § 2778, Arms Export Control Act, 10 yrs.


          2.          A licensed explosives importer, manufacturer, or dealer exporting explosives must maintain records of the
                       transaction, 27 C.F.R. § 555.129.





          1.          Engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing or dealing in explosives
                       (e.g., M-80s, M-100s, M-1000s, selling stolen explosives) without a Federal license:

                        § 842(a)(1), 10 years.


           2.          Receiving explosives without a license or permit, § 842 (a)(3)(A), 10 years.


          3.          Transporting or shipping explosives without a license or permit, § 842 (a)(3)(A), 10 years,
                       or in violation of the Hazardous Substances Act (HAZMAT), 15 U.S.C. § 1263, Department of


          4.         Distributing explosives to a person who is not a licensee or permittee, § 842(a)(3)(B), 10 years. 





              Severe penalties, including the death penalty! 


          1.          Solicit a bombing to occur: § 373.


          2.          Conspire to commit a bombing, §§ 844 (m), 844 (n), 2332a.


          3.          Steal or possess stolen explosives: §§ 842 (h), 844 (k), 844 (l).


          4.          Lie to ATF or to a licensee to acquire explosives, § 842 (a)(2).


          5.          Receive explosives to commit bombing. § 844 (d).


          6.          Transfer explosives to be used in bombing, § 844 (o).


          7.          Prohibited person (e.g., felon) receives, transports, ships or possesses explosives, § 842 (i).


          8.          Non-prohibited person receives, transports or ships explosives while not having license or permit,
                       § 842a3A


          9.          Provide material support to bomber, § 2339A. (Examples: lodging, training, safehouse, transportation, etc.)


          10.        Teach others to make bombs, § 842 (p).


          11.        Make a bomb, 26 U.S.C. § 5861, definition 18 U.S.C. § 921 (a)(4).


          12.        Transport bomb or explosives across State line, § 844 (d).


          13.        Mail explosives or bomb, § 1716.


          14.        Possess bomb in FAA airport or Federal property, § 844 (g).


           15.        Make bomb threat or convey false information about a bomb in the U.S. mail, e-mail, telephone,
                       fax, etc., or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, § 844 (e), see also § 1038.


          16.        Place explosives on aircraft, 49 U.S.C. § 46505.


           17.        Manufacture, import, export, ship, transfer, receive, or possess a plastic explosive without containing

                        a detection agent, §§ 842 (l), (m), (n), (o).  





            Severe penalties, including the death penalty! 


             1.       Use, carry or possess a bomb to commit a Federal crime of violence or a Federal drug

                         trafficking crime, § 924 (c)


             2.       Bomb Federal property: §§ 844 (f), 930 (c), 2332a


             3.       Bomb institution / organization receiving Federal financial assistance, § 844 (f).


             4.       Bomb business property, §§ 844 (i), 2332a.


             5.       Bomb public places, § 2332f


              6.       Use explosive to commit any Federal felony, § 844 (h)(1).


             7.       Carry explosive during the commission of any Federal felony, § 844(h)(2. 






             1.       Nuclear – 18 U.S.C. § 831



             2.       Biological – 18 U.S.C. § 175



             3.       Chemical – 18 U.S.C. § 229



             4.       Civil Disorders – 18 U.S.C. § 231



             5.       Missile Systems to Destroy Aircraft – 18 U.S.C. § 2332g



             6.       Radiological Dispersal Devices – 18 U.S.C. § 2332h





Back To Index Page