Ever wonder how all those people who upload their videos of targets exploding on YouTube get away with possessing and detonating explosives? This may surprise some of you, but the compound they detonate is not a regular explosive—it is a binary explosive shot indicator and subject to a different set of laws. Tannerite, the compound in question, is the trademark for a patented ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder based binary explosive used primarily as a target for firearms practice. Tannerite comes separated into two powders, which by themselves are completely harmless. You combine the two to produce the explosive. It is completely legal and you can purchase it from a number of sources. Tannerite holds unique properties in that it remains stable unless hit with a massive amount of force, such as a high-velocity projectile. Simply dropping it or hitting it with a hammer will not produce any effect.
Some of you might be wondering how in the world a powerful explosive like this is legal. Interestingly, it has many legitimate uses outside of target practice. In the United States, it is a primary tool for avalanche control and police use. Tannerite falls under the same laws as black powder and all other explosives that are exempt for sporting use. ATF regulations allow the manufacturer to produce the two components separately since neither compound is an explosive by itself. However, the mixture is an explosive once mixed, and you cannot transport it without following strict regulations including insurance, packaging, and signage on the vehicle. Various regulations also govern the storage of mixed Tannerite. The compound is so stable, that low-level rifle and pistol ammunition will not set it off. Only high-velocity rounds have the energy to make Tannerite explode.
Despite its explosive capabilities, the misuse of the product has resulted in no deaths to date. Statistically speaking, a neighborhood swimming pool is far more dangerous than Tannerite. A civilian may shoot exploding rifle targets the same day they mix their Tannerite as long as they do not exceed their state’s limit on explosive powder. Per federal regulations, the law allows you to possess 50 pounds of pre-mixed powder for sporting use. A state such as Maryland has a limit of 5 pounds. This means that you may not possess over 5 pounds of mixed Tannerite at any given time in Maryland. Currently, you may possess as much unmixed Tannerite as you wish, and combine the binary targets in smaller quantities as you shoot them. However, on October 1, 2012 a new Maryland law aims to ban the sale or ownership of Tannerite by expanding the definition of an explosive to include:
(I) Bombs and destructive devices designed to operate by chemical, mechanical, or explosive action; (II) Two or more components that are advertised and sold together with instructions on how to combine the compoents to create and explosive as defined in paragraph one of this subsection.
Violation of this new law is a misdemeanor subject to imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding $5000 or both.
Law enforcement fined a Minnesota man $2,583 and sentenced him to three years of probation on charges of detonating an explosive device and unlawful possession of components for explosives on January 14, 2008. This was after he detonated 100 pounds of Tannerite inside the bed of a dump truck by shooting it with a .50 caliber rifle. The man was on probation when he mixed and shot the Tannerite. At the time of the incident, the man’s probationary status made it unlawful for him to posses a firearm. Employees at the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant felt the resulting explosion roughly five miles away from the point of detonation.
Intelligent and safe use of Tannerite can enhance your firearms practicing experience without getting out of hand. Using it responsibly in the remaining areas where it is lawful will result in its continued status as a legal and fun firearms shot indicator. Be smart so we can all enjoy it. Shooting would be less fun if you didn’t get to find out first hand what Tannerite does to a watermelon!