Mystery over booms solved; but were any laws broken?

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Justin Watkins says he can’t take all of the big “boom” credit, but claims there’s no doubt he’s triggered a few ground-shaking shots lately.

He says he’s making no plans to stop.

An explosion shown Monday on CBS 6 was courtesy of Watkins, taped over the weekend.

“I have created a portion of the noise,” said Watkins, referring to the mystery that has vexed residents from Chesterfield to Colonial Heights to Dinwiddie in recent months.

The Chesterfield native says he set up a 20-pound mix of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder Saturday, something the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms calls binary exploding elements. The stuff is called tannerite, and it’s a target that explodes when hit.

Tannerite can be used as a general explosive, that, prior to mixing, can be sold, transported, and stored in most areas of the United States without any special permits. Neither part, separate, is explosive.

Watkins pulled the trigger of a high powered rifle and the detonation was felt for quite some distance.

“All I heard was a ‘wooompph’ off the windows,” said Beth Leigh in Colonial Heights.

“It was loud enough for me to drop to the ground,” said Sharon Sweeney in southern Chesterfield.

People living in southern Chesterfield County and others in Dinwiddie have been sounding off on social media outlets for months looking for answers to the mysterious booms. And there’s a mixed reaction when people find out that it’s a man-made device causing the shake-up.

“They have hobbies they like to do.  We have hobbies we like,” said Watkins.  “We like to hunt, fish and blow stuff up.”.

The ATF tells CBS 6 that as long as the products are mixed on site and not transported, then no federal or state laws have been broken.

The sound does travel, though, sometimes for miles.  But county officials say it does not violate any noise ordinance, because Watkins’ explosions occur during the day.

And police, after receiving 15 to 20 calls over the weekend, say they’ve investigated and that Watkins has done nothing unlawful.

“It’s one second out of one day,” said Watkins.  “We aren’t shooting 20 targets.”

Watkins says he isn’t the only one using the explosive targets and the 20-pounder that rocked southern Chesterfield over the weekend, won’t be his last blast.

“Are you going to stop?” I asked.

“ Nah, man,” he said.  “We are gonna’ keep shooting targets.  We aren’t breaking the law.”

Shooting at explosive targets is trending nationwide although it can get expensive: the cost of materials ranges from five to ten dollars per pound.


  • tj

    TECHNICALLY LEGAL BUT not perfectly owning a gun is legal UNTIL someone is hurt by it, Hurting others takes precedence. the homeowners should 1. start a petition citing personal fear, anxiety and trauma.
    2.damage to personal property. Shaking of house means possible shifting of foundation.
    Shaking of ground means possible loosening of tree rroots leading to possible uprooting at later date because of the weakening.
    The neighbors have good cause for a cease and desist for the public good which takes precedence. if there were a lawyer down here who was worth his sale and had at least a passing knowledge of federal and constitutional law he would quickly show the shooters not perfectly legal…and lawmakers would act quickly of define the unfettered terrorizing of neighbors and damaging property. .There is a basis for a lawsuit

    • SirRantsAlot

      You, Sir/Ma’am, are a perfect example of why our freedoms are eroded more everyday. He is not hurting you or anyone else. Yet, because you think he’s ‘dangerous’, you are plotting for civil litigation, based on your own insecurities. Your mind set is not one of personal liberty and freedom. Rather it is one that values control over the actions of others. There is a political label that describes your default position.

  • Ben

    How is this not a violation of this Va code? § 18.2-85. Manufacture, possession, use, etc., of fire bombs or explosive materials or devices; penalties.

    For the purpose of this section:

    “Device” means any instrument, apparatus or contrivance, including its component parts, that is capable of producing or intended to produce an explosion but shall not include fireworks as defined in § 27-95.

    “Explosive material” means any chemical compound, mechanical mixture or device that is commonly used or can be used for the purpose of producing an explosion and which contains any oxidizing and combustive agents or other ingredients in such proportions, quantities or packaging that an ignition by fire, friction, concussion, percussion, detonation or by any part of the compound or mixture may cause a sudden generation of highly heated gases. These materials include, but are not limited to, gunpowder, powders for blasting, high explosives, blasting materials, fuses (other than electric circuit breakers), detonators, and other detonating agents and smokeless powder.

    “Fire bomb” means any container of a flammable material such as gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil, or other chemical compound, having a wick composed of any material or a device or other substance which, if set or ignited, is capable of igniting such flammable material or chemical compound but does not include a similar device commercially manufactured and used solely for the purpose of illumination or cooking.

    “Hoax explosive device” means any device which by its design, construction, content or characteristics appears to be or to contain a bomb or other destructive device or explosive but which is an imitation of any such device or explosive.

    Any person who (i) possesses materials with which fire bombs or explosive materials or devices can be made with the intent to manufacture fire bombs or explosive materials or devices or, (ii) manufactures, transports, distributes, possesses or uses a fire bomb or explosive materials or devices shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony. Any person who constructs, uses, places, sends, or causes to be sent any hoax explosive device so as to intentionally cause another person to believe that such device is a bomb or explosive shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

    Nothing in this section shall prohibit the authorized manufacture, transportation, distribution, use or possession of any material, substance, or device by a member of the armed forces of the United States, fire fighters or law-enforcement officers, nor shall it prohibit the manufacture, transportation, distribution, use or possession of any material, substance or device to be used solely for scientific research, educational purposes or for any lawful purpose, subject to the provisions of §§ 27-97 and 27-97.2.

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