An explosive is a substance that causes a violent explosion or noise. The laws of individual states may provide a more detailed definition of explosives or specific examples. A few examples include bombs, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and dynamite.
Injuries caused by explosions include the following:

  • Blast ear, which can cause permanent hearing loss
  • Blast lung, which may appear months after the explosion
  • Blast brain, even if there are no obvious signs of injury to the head
  • A blast belly can result in hemorrhaging or damage to internal organs
  • A ruptured eye globe or a blast eye

If individuals are caught with explosives in their possession, they may be charged with a variety of criminal offenses, particularly at the federal level. According to the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines, you may be facing significant penalties, including jail time, if you are convicted of an explosives charge in federal court.

Are Explosives Illegal?

Not all explosives are illegal. Explosives can be used for activities such as blasting tunnels or drilling mines. However, because explosives are dangerous, they are closely regulated by the government.

Explosives are heavily regulated under federal law, mostly due to their danger when misused. Explosives and other firearms may be exported, imported, manufactured, and received by individuals who have the necessary licenses, but individuals who do not meet the licensing requirements cannot possess explosives. You could face harsh penalties if you fail to follow the law in this regard.

Explosives are classified as high-order or low-order, depending on their volume. A low-order explosive such as gun powder produces a subsonic explosion with a loud sound and focused reaction.

Explosives of a high order, such as those produced by the interaction of volatile chemicals with heat, can cause multiple types of damage. A strong supersonic pressure wave is created in addition to the blast itself. A blasting wind of superheated air may also accompany it.

Even though explosives are included in the federal definition of firearms, they are subject to additional laws beyond those listed in 18 U.S.C. §922 and 18 U.S.C. §924. Further federal explosives laws can be found in 18 U.S.C. §842 and 18 U.S.C. §844. The Attorney General of the United States oversees the manufacturing, storage, and shipment of explosive materials. If a dealer discovers a theft or loss of explosives from their inventory, they must report it to the Attorney General within 24 hours. Failing to do so can result in a fine of up to $10,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years.

Additionally, there are federal regulations governing who may not possess explosives. Per 18 U.S.C. 842(D), the following individuals are prohibited from possessing explosives:

  • Individuals under the age of 21;
  • People who have been convicted of a crime that carried a sentence of at least one year in prison or who are awaiting conviction of such a crime;
  • Drug addicts or drug users (there are some preconditions that must be met to determine if a person is abusing drugs);
  • Illegal aliens or those who do not possess permanent residency in the United States;
  • Those with a prior conviction for domestic assault or those who have been the subject of a restraining order for domestic assault;
  • Military personnel who have been dishonorably discharged;
  • Mentally ill individuals (or residents of facilities for the mentally ill);
  • Persons considered to be fugitives from justice;
  • Those who live in a state that prohibits such possession.

Who Regulates Explosives?

By way of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the US Department of the Treasury regulates explosives. To sell, manufacture, import, and deal in explosives, licenses are required. The Secretary of the Treasury publishes a list of explosives that are criminally punishable. Attorneys at the ATF enforce and administer federal laws relating to firearms, explosives, alcohol and tobacco trafficking, and the Gun Control Act to prevent violent crime.

The Office of the Chief Counsel (OCC) serves as the legal advisor to the ATF Director, executive staff, supervisors, and employees. OCC provides legal services, including training on alcohol, tobacco, firearms, explosives, arson, and civil service laws. OCC practices in five areas: Litigation, Management, General Law and Information, Firearms and Explosives, and Asset Forfeiture. Lawyers are also based in field offices, where they work directly with special agents and industry operations investigators on active investigations.

What Is Prohibited?

These are some acts prohibited by law:

  • Threatening to use explosives.
  • Destroying or damaging property by using explosives.
  • Possessing explosives at the airport and other sensitive areas.
  • Committing a felony with an explosive.
  • Carrying an explosive while committing a felony.
  • Teaching or demonstrating how to make or use an explosive for an illegal purpose.
  • Transporting or receiving explosives without a license.
  • Distributing explosives to a person under the age of 21, a convicted felon, a fugitive, or someone judged mentally incompetent.
  • Selling explosives without an appropriate license.

What Are the Penalties?

Depending on the violation, breaking the law about explosives could be a felony or a misdemeanor. You could face a fine, probation, jail time, or a combination.

Violations of the law regarding explosives can result in extensive prison time. Some sentences include:

  • Anyone who uses or carries an explosive to commit a felony can receive 10 years in prison in addition to whatever the felony charge may be. A second conviction under this law will result in a 20-year prison sentence. Those sentences will run concurrently with any other prison term imposed for the felony in which the explosive was used or carried.
  • An individual who conspires to commit a felony offense as described above can receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
  • 18 U.S.C. §844(i) states that an individual who uses an explosive to damage or destroy or tries to destroy real or personal property “used in interstate or foreign commerce” is liable for a prison sentence of between five and twenty years. In the case of injury to a person or persons, the sentence can be increased to 7-40 years. A death or life sentence can be imposed if this activity results in another’s death.
  • Persons who steal explosive materials, including those found in interstate or foreign commerce, from licensed dealers or manufacturers may be sentenced to ten years in prison.
  • An individual who distributes explosive materials while knowing or believing that the explosive materials will be used to commit a violent crime or drug trafficking crime can receive the same prison sentence as a person who committed felonies while carrying explosive materials.

What If I Use Explosives Legally?

It is important to follow all regulations governing the use, transport, and storage of explosives, even if you are using, transporting, or storing explosives for a legitimate reason. You will be held to a high standard. If you use, transport, or store explosives, you are responsible for any injuries that may occur.

Should I Contact A Lawyer About Explosives?

An attorney can help you determine what laws apply to explosives you deal with. If you are accused of an explosive-related crime, you should contact a criminal lawyer immediately to learn about your rights and the complicated legal system. In the event of an accident involving explosives, a personal injury lawyer can advise you on your rights and remedies.