In this blog, the International Association of Chiefs of Police Arson and Explosives Committee provides information regarding the growing use and misuse of exploding target (ET) products and promoting personnel safety.
Exploding Targets are a pre-packaged combination of non-explosive chemicals that, when thoroughly mixed, form a high explosive. The products are typically sold containing two separate components, one of Ammonium nitrate (an oxidizer) and the other a fuel such as aluminum powder, zirconium or other finely ground metal (Figure 1). Because the component materials are not, by themselves, explosive, manufacturer packaged exploding targets are not classified as explosive materials and do not meet the definition of “Explosives” found in Federal statutes (27 CFR 555.11.) However, once the components are mixed together (Figure 2), the mixture is classified as an explosive material that is subject to all the regulatory requirements found in 27 CFR, Part 555 – Commerce in Explosives, which pertains to manufacturing, storage or transportation, and is subject to Federal, State and local laws.
Figure 1: Exploding target ingredients (unmixed)
Figure 2: Exploding Target Combined Mixture
Exploding Target Incidents
The use, and increasing misuse, of exploding targets (ET) has brought these materials to the attention of law enforcement agencies nationwide. Police Chiefs may find their departments responding to incidents involving these readily available explosive products and should insure that their personnel are aware of the characteristics and potential dangers posed by these items. A search of the United States Bomb Data Center’s (USBDC) Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS), the national repository for reported explosives incidents, shows that, from 2010 until April of 2015, at least 40 states have reported incidents and/or recoveries of exploding targets by first responder agencies. Law enforcement professionals should recognize the potential for criminal misuse of such products as well as the unintended consequences of the misuse of such materials.
Readily Available, However…
When used properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, the resulting mixture can be detonated when struck by a high velocity bullet, producing both an audible and visual effect for target shooters. The materials can be bought and sold without the need for a Federal explosives license or permit. Although a few states have enacted legislation restricting or banning the sale of exploding targets, they are readily available at many firearms and shooting sport equipment distributors across the country as well as through on line retailers. However, once mixed, the resulting composition is a high explosive and the transportation, storage and use may be subject to Federal regulations. In addition, the misuse of exploding target products may violate state or Federal laws if the explosive is used to construct a destructive device or is used as a weapon intended to injure or kill people or to damage or destroy property. In such cases, law enforcement should consult with prosecutors to determine if criminal charges can be applied.
Safety Risk from Misuse
While most people who use ETs do so in a recommended and responsible manner, a number of individuals have been seriously injured or killed by their misuse. These explosives produce a blast and, if misused, can potentially generate high velocity fragments that can cause damage to nearby objects and could injure or kill people. This advisory is designed to increase law enforcement’s awareness of these products, and to inform people using, encountering or in the proximity to ETs that, when mixed, they are high explosive materials and can pose a safety risk if used improperly. Each ET manufacturer includes instructions detailing the proper and safe use of its products, which should be followed closely.
Recent Examples of Misuse
Several incidents in 2015 have illustrated the ways in which law enforcement may encounter exploding targets and their consequences.
- In Oklahoma, an 8-year-old boy was killed and a 22-year-old man injured after an individual placed an ET product in a stove and shot it with a high-powered rifle.
- In Texas, a 9 year-old boy was severely injured when a relative placed an ET product into an improvised canon and shot it with a rifle, in an effort to launch a pumpkin.
In both cases, the misuse of the product resulted in the production of fragmentation propelled at high velocities resulting in tragedy.
Figure 3: Visible effect produced by bullet striking an exploding target (ET) mixture.
When to Request Assistance of Trained Explosives Experts
The examples also illustrate the hazards that may face law enforcement officers responding to incidents involving exploding targets. Officers should realize that, when mixed, these materials are explosives and they should immediately request the assistance of personnel trained in the safe handling of explosive materials. If there is a question as to whether the material has been mixed or not, the safest option is to assume that the material is an explosive and request the assistance of trained explosives experts. As with any potentially explosive material, consultation with explosives experts should be a law enforcement officer’s first action when encountering exploding target products.
Figure 4: Examples of commercially available Exploding Target products (before mixing.)
If you have any questions about this Advisory, please contact Donald Robinson, IACP Arson and Explosives Committee Chairman at Donald.Robinson@atf.gov or (256) 261-7602.
 Contact the local United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office for questions concerning Federal regulation of transportation or storage of mixed exploding targets or other explosives.
 United States Bomb Data Center Advisory 15-31; Recovery and Use of Exploding Targets over the Past Five Years.