It's that time of year again, and one of the single most important things you can do for Tripoli this year is take a few minutes to read the TRA Board of Directors candidate résumés, make your choices and mail in the ballot. We have four very good people who have chosen to volunteer their time, either for the first time or for another term, to serve the organization in the key role of director. Trust me when I say that I know of no person who has done this job who thinks there isn't some significant sacrifice of personal time involved, and I admire all who step up to offer their services to TRA. In return, these people do deserve a small amount of our time to consider their qualifications and to cast a ballot. So please give the election your attention and vote.Strangely, we continue year after year to have only a minority of members who do vote, despite the small effort it takes. Let's try to raise the number of voters this year.
In the last Tripoli Report the court documents that described the long-awaited outcome to our legal case with the ATF were published. This may or may not have been completely explanatory, depending on how much legalese the reader tolerates. In this TR issue, you will see two important documents.One is a joint message to TRA/NAR members from Dick Embry and Mark Bundick, that was electronically distributed to various media the week following the Federal District Court hearing on April 22, 2004.The other is a letter from our legal counsel, Joe Egan, to the ATF attorney, Jane Lyons, that explicitly describes what our understanding of our rocket motor status is as a result of the several rulings on this case. This letter can also be viewed as our letter of intent, on how we will conduct ourselves with respect to rocket motors in the immediate future.Please take some time to read these letters…..maybe you want to take a break from this editorial right now to do so.
A PAD by Any Other Name...
OK, what does this all mean? First and foremost,any fully assembled rocket motor, of any weight, is considered a propellant actuated device (PAD) and is exempt from ATF regulation. This includes reloadable motors once in an assembled state. How does this help us? It means that with reasonable procedures,that may involve local prefectures working with members who have LEUPs and/or club storage,to have designated persons work with non-LEUP holding flyers to assemble reloadable motors while in the custody of the LEUP holder, and the flyer can then fly such assembled motors of any weight.Single-use motors are obviously less of a problem,and may be flown without interaction of a LEUP holder.There are certainly some gray procedural areas here, and one may question how we handle certification attempts with reloads. We will need to work on some procedural details, and members/prefectures are encouraged to offer input and ideas.The good news overall is that we currently have freedom to fly as we have been, and more freedom in some respects.
Reload Kits, Dealers, and ATF Reaction
One initial question that almost everyone has is the status of so-called "easy access" motors. The short answer is that at this moment, whatever you can purchase without a LEUP, you can still purchase.The court's rulings have in some areas made things less clear than more clear (but we can still find our way through the fog). Here's an example of some thoughts I expressed on the TRA list.serve:
Part of the problem is the weird state of affairs that the various rulings leave us in. For example, take a look at the interplay of the ruling on count one and count four. Count one's ruling substantiated ATF's right to regulate APCP as a propellant. However, on what basis can they regulate it? Count four, which the ATF moved to dismiss in 2002 and were ruled against, says that ATF has attempted to institute a rule without the proper public commentary period,and that rule is that they can regulate motors over a62.5 g weight threshold. Since the court effectively agreed with our complaint, ATF has instituted NPRM968, which is not yet complete. In effect, at the present moment, ATF has no properly promulgated per motor weight criterion on which to regulate APCP motors. This argues that while they can regulate APCP in a general sense, their criteria for applying such regulation to individual rocket motors is in limbo.
One could speculate that because of this situation,ATF has no legal way to regulate even reload kits, of any size. However, our legal counsel has advised us on this point that the judge is not necessarily linking these arguments in such a way, and it is felt that pushing this argument right now may not be helpful to our cause in the long run. We do not want to be the ones who would appear to be acting in a manner inconsistent with the judge's rulings.
On the issue of dealers, and what they will sell to flyers- this is still an open matter. All these results are only one-week old as we go to press, and as yet, we have not had much dialog with dealers/manufacturers,although this process has begun. It is my hope that they will act in accordance with the rulings of the court, even though things could change once again.As we continue to discuss these matters with dealers/manufacturers (who will undoubtedly have many questions about the court rulings), we will get word out to members.
What about the ATF? How will they react? ATF has already notified us of two things, in the hearing of April 22, 2004: 1) They will be initiating an NPRM related to PADs; 2) They feel they will complete the current NPRM 968 and the proposed PAD NPRM by December, 2004. I remain very skeptical that they will have the latter completed when they assert they will. And on that matter, bear in mind that we will once again need to react with massive responses if/when the PAD NPRM appears. NPRM 968 has taken them much longer to complete due to the reaction of rocketeers everywhere, so get ready to do the same thing when this new one appears.
One other ATF reaction that we anticipate could happen is that ATF field agents may not be in tune with the rulings and their interpretation. However, Joe Egan delivered a very strong message to the courtand ATF's counsel on this matter, stating that we had already seen some instances of ATF field agents telling members "there is no PAD exemption." The judge was clear in expressing that ATF was expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the rulings,and should they not do so, it will be expected that TRA/NAR will petition the court for injunctive relief. This is a pretty strong message, and it is hoped ATF will get the word out to the field. All members are encouraged if any ATF field agent aberrations are encountered, to fully document the incident,including names, dates, times, and "what was said" and to send this information to Dick Embry or any TRA Board member. We will be working on a form that will be available on the TRA website for this purpose.
It's Not Over 'Til It's Over
First, the current state of affairs leaves things ambiguous in some ways. TRA leaders cannot necessarily provide an exact "cookbook" on procedures as a result of a situation that has several contradictions and uncertainties involved. However, TRA and NAR leaders are working on some basic points of guidance that will be provided to members in thevery near future. Second, the legal case isn't closed,and the effort for relief from over-regulation is farfrom complete. We don't agree that the ruling on Count 1 (APCP as an explosive) is legally sound,and this ruling could be appealed. Counts 4 & 5 are held open until ATF completes NPRM 968. So additional developments are going to occur with the legal case. Also, the legislative effort is not done either,although progress has slowed at the moment.However, everyone needs to understand that we are viewing this as a multi-front effort, and we will continue work on all fronts, and doing so in a financially responsible manner. Again, here's a posting from the TRA list.server (in answer to a discussion of legal versus legislative advantages):
On the assertion that the legal side is a better path than legislative side, or vice versa, I am saying that this is not the right argument. We have some traction on both sides, and some momentum that we will work not to lose. We are moving on two paths, and as I have stated for some time now, if they are handled well, they can be complementary. For example,an appeal on count one is a possible move, since we believe the ruling to be legally/procedurally flawed.And every time we gain a ruling that ATF has instituted rule-making without public comment (three occasions in this case), we show congressional allies that these guys are not always obeying the law.
This is the close of one inning, but the game is still underway. The ruling on count three gains us some breathing room, but even more importantly, sets the stage for further moves on several fronts. Everyone needs to understand that we are not at the end.Maybe Churchill's quote about the victory at El Alamein is most apt: "It is not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning." I for one am very stoked about continuing to push VERY hard and to do so as economically as we can. I also think this court case, our legislative efforts, and our message to the ATF following the last hearing should show them that we aren't going away.
Clearly, we would all like a "final outcome" rather than ongoing uncertainty. The reality is that we are not there yet, and we will need to continue to make the right moves, carefully, thoughtfully, and patiently…while gaining as much freedom as we can along the way.
Back to Candidate Information Menu