Gunpowder is at least 1000 years old. it’s the oldest explosive known to humans, and it’s not like the formula of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur remains some sort of closely-guarded state secret. There are some hardy souls who still make their own gunpowder at home. You might know one of them without realizing it, especially if you have a buddy nicknamed “Stumpy” or “Lefty.” Most of black powder enthusiasts do the safe thing: they buy gunpowder or a black powder substitute (e.g., Triple Seven, Pyrodex or Jim Shockey’s Gold) at the store. These days, that’s easier said than done . . .
First, the good news: the ATF does not regulate guns that load from the muzzle and that use black powder. The Gunwalker folks don’t subject the black powder guns to the Byzantine labyrinth (or is that labyrinthine Byzantium?) of federal firearms rules, regulations, and laws.
Now the bad news: after the terror attacks of 9-11, the regulations concerning black powder sales changed. Americans could no longer be trusted with explosives, even before they bought them. Uncle Sam considered anyone who bought gunpowder a potential terrorist. Anyone who sold it was guilty of supplying a terrorist. At least potentially.
The result: paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork.
I used to buy my gunpowder at John’s Guns in Fort Smith, Arkansas. John’s quit carrying real, actual black powder. He told me the new regulations made it too much of a hassle and far too expensive for both him and most of his former customers.
I didn’t worry too much at the time. Another local store still sold it to me–although I noticed that they began keeping their one-pound cans of the stuff inside the store safe. I also had to fill out a release statement upon purchase. An employee had to escort me from the counter to the parking lot.
All part of the new regulations and requirements, they said.
But I had enough real black powder stashed back to shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot some more, which I did, through my cap-and-ball revolvers, my replica Civil War rifled musket and my Queen Anne flintlock pistol.
Then RF dropped the Thompson Center Fire Storm on me. I was totally out of FFFFg powder for pan priming, almost out of FFg for loading the rifle’s chamber, and down to my last five .50 caliber round balls. So I called all the gun stores, pawn shops, and outdoor retailers within a 20-mile radius to scrounge up more smoke pole supplies.
All my calls were in vain. Nobody sold black powder any more. There was not one grain of real, actual, Holy Black to be found. Anywhere.
It was the same sad tale. Government regs had made gunpowder sales so expensive and inconvenient that they’d simply given it up. The deal breaker: anyone selling black powder in any amount, no matter how small, must now obtain a “Federal explosives license.”
I was disappointed but not surprised. Post-911 regs had pretty much outlawed the best model rocket engines a few years ago. If model rocket engines were smothered by new government regulations, black powder for guns was doomed.
Desperate, I started searching the Internet. Several megabytes later I discovered that one black powder outlet remained in the state of Arkansas. Powder Inc., over in Clarksville.
A phone call later, I was doing the happy dance. I’d finally located a source of man’s oldest ballistic chemicals. I would be able to make the Fire Storm flintlock go BOOM.
My happy dance quickly ended when I asked how much shipping would be for a pair of one-pound cans of powder, FFFFg and FFg. “Oh, about $40 or so,” said the voice on the other end. Hazmat fees. Government Regs. Again. Still.
Forty bucks? Forty American dollars to ship two pounds of powder 61 lousy miles across I-40 to Fort Smith? I quickly did gasoline math in my head. Even at a little over 120 miles round trip, I would come out at least $20 ahead if I just sucked it up and made the two-hour, round trip journey myself. “Can I just drive over and buy it in person?” I asked.
Which is exactly what I ended up doing. So when my review of the Thompson Fire Storm finally appears on TTAG, know that I went the extra 120 miles to bring it to you. And take a moment to wonder what road American is driving down these days.