Senator Lautenberg, in the wake of the Boston bombing, is calling for background checks for people buying explosive powder. Yes, Best Magazine on the Planet?
Purchasing commercial gunpowder is a nice convenience for hobbyists because it provides consistent powder of known quality and stability. But making stuff blow up is not hard. I can’t be the only person who scorched part of his home as a kid with black powder concocted from a library book recipe. Cormac McCarthy’s excellent Blood Meridian includes a rather detailed recipe for making a large quantity of the stuff while running for your life.
Nastier explosives can be concocted with ease, too. I had a high school chemistry teacher who delighted in pranking his colleagues with nitrogen triiodide. Not hard stuff to make, as it turns out.
Even simple flour can explode under the right circumstances (see the photo up above) — those circumstances occurring all too easily for those who manufacture the stuff or store large quantities [Hal – as we tragically found out last night]. The bloody Oklahoma City bombing was committed with an explosive made from common fertilizer and fuel oil. The fact of the matter is, preventing stuff from burning or blowing up can sometimes be a trickier task than causing explosions. So many common ingredients, from gasoline to sugar, can be used to cause mayhem, that Lautenberg’s further proposal to “[m]ake it illegal to manufacture homemade explosives without a permit,” falls just shy of a ban on naughty thoughts in terms of unenforceability.
Background checks are rapidly becoming our nation’s answer to animal sacrifices: a ritual that we hope will banish evil law-breaking spirits. In some applications — like controlling nuclear weapons — they are useful. But they are not the answer to everything. And they can not override the basic laws of chemistry which dictate that explosives can be created by anyone with sufficient knowledge.
I can’t tell if Lautenberg is senile, a lawhead or a senile lawhead but this has to rank up there with the most ridiculous responses to the Boston killing (the single most ridiculous is CNN’s self-beclowning “news coverage”). I’m sure that Lautenberg will soon see the flaw in this and propose something different. Maybe banning the Star Trek episode Arena.