Gun Powder: A Comprehensive Guide to Black Powder in the US
Gun powder, commonly known as black powder, has played a significant role in the history of firearms and pyrotechnics. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the importance of black powder in the US, its various applications, regulations governing its use, its impact on the defense industrial base, and the current state of gun powder manufacturing in the country. A Brief History of Gun Powder Black powder is a low explosive material comprised of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulfur, and charcoal. Invented by the Chinese in A.D. 850, it is the first gunpowder and has been widely used as a propellant in fireworks, pyrotechnics, ammunition, and muzzleloaders. 1. Military Applications Black powder has been a crucial component of US military applications for centuries. From the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, black powder has been used in various weapons systems and artillery shells. Smokeless powder eventually replaced black powder in most military and sporting applications, but black powder remains an essential component in the ignition systems of many artillery shells and aerial bombs. 2. Commercial and Recreational Uses The commercial and recreational use of black powder is still prevalent today. Muzzleloader hunters, cowboy action shooters, and reenactors continue to rely on black powder for their firearms. It is also used in model rockets, fireworks, and other industrial processes. Black Powder Manufacturers in the US 1. The Closure of GOEX: The Last American Black Powder Manufacturer In recent years, the US black powder industry has faced significant challenges. In September 2021, Hodgdon Powder Company, the owner of GOEX, announced the immediate closure of its Camp Minden, Louisiana facility. The facility, which was the last black powder manufacturer in America, has now ceased operations, and the company is evaluating strategic options for the black powder business. The reasons behind the closure of GOEX are unclear, but several factors may have contributed to the decision, including the acquisition of Blackhorn 209 by Hodgdon in 2020 and a fire incident at the GOEX Camp Minden facility in June 2021. 2. The Resurgence of Gun Powder Manufacturing: The DOD's Investment in Estes Energetics The Department of Defense's Industrial Base Support (IBS) office, through the Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III authority, is supporting a Louisiana facility owned by Estes Energetics, through its Goex subsidiary, to reopen after an accident shut down production. The total cost of the project is $5.3 million over two years, and it will allow production to resume at the Minden, Louisiana facility in two years or less. This investment will bring a critical defense industrial base asset back to production status and help Goex modernize the facility with the intent of reducing operational risk and improving safety. Goex is currently the only American source of black powder. Regulations Governing Black Powder in the US In the United States, a federal explosives license or permit under the federal explosives regulations at 27 CFR, Part 555 is required to purchase black powder. However, an exemption at 27 CFR Part 555.141(b) states that these regulations do not apply to black powder: That is commercially manufactured. In quantities not exceeding 50 pounds. Is intended to be used solely for sporting, recreational, or cultural purposes in antique firearms or antique devices. 1. Exemptions for Personal Use A federal explosives license or permit is not required to purchase and use commercially manufactured black powder in quantities not to exceed 50 pounds for the above-stated purposes in antique firearms or antique devices. Individuals do not need a manufacturer's license if they manufacture black powder for their own personal, non-business use, and the black powder produced is not a "commercial" product within the contemplation of the exemption. It must be stored in compliance with the appropriate regulations. 2. Requirements for Other Purposes An individual or company purchasing any amount of black powder for any other purpose, including for use in fireworks or pyrotechnics, or who intends to transport any black powder not meeting the above conditions for exemption, must obtain a federal explosives license or permit. Such persons must also store the black powder in an explosives magazine compliant with the regulations at Part 555. The Impact of Black Powder on the Defense Industrial Base The US Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes the importance of black powder in the defense industrial base. Through its DPA Title III Program, the DoD is dedicated to ensuring the timely availability of essential domestic industrial resources to support national defense and homeland security requirements now and in the future. By supporting the Louisiana facility owned by Estes Energetics, the DoD is working to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign supply chains, ensure the integrity of materials supplied to the American Warfighter, and help create a resilient, robust, and secure defense industrial base. The Future of Black Powder in the US While the closure of GOEX has undoubtedly impacted the availability and cost of black powder in the US, there are still several modern black powder alternatives available. Hodgdon still makes Pyrodex, Triple Seven, and Blackhorn 209, available in both powder and pellet form. The company has stated that the GOEX closure would not impact the production of any of their other product lines, including black powder substitutes. For muzzleloader hunters, this is not the end of the world. These black powder alternatives are safe to use in traditional muzzleloaders if the manufacturer recommended load data is followed. However, for cowboy action and black powder cartridge rifle shooters, the situation may be different. Many black powder competitions have strict rules regarding the use of traditional black powder, and these rules may have to change. While it's unclear what this will mean for the future of black powder in America, there are rumors that potential buyers are interested in picking up GOEX. Black powder enthusiasts are waiting patiently in the wings for good news, smoke poles at the ready. Conclusion Black powder has been a crucial component of US history and continues to play an essential role in various applications, from military uses to recreational and commercial purposes. The future of black powder in the United States may be uncertain, but the resilience of the defense industrial base and the dedication of black powder enthusiasts ensure that this historical propellant will continue to play a role in American firearms and pyrotechnics for years to come.