We object strongly to the commentary by John Shepard Wiley Jr., on the study of taggants in black and smokeless powder (Nov. 11). The National Rifle Assn. devoted considerable time to educating the Congress on the problems with immediate inclusion of taggants in gunpowder. The NRA, not President Clinton, called for matters of safety and effectiveness to be resolved by an independent scientific panel.
The government's own research in the 1970s and early 1980s found taggants to be potentially very dangerous, as they were found to increase chemical activity and prompt spontaneous combustion when mixed with some powders. The law enforcement benefits of tagging black and smokeless powders have been questioned, since a single batch of gunpowder is distributed in half-pound or one-pound cans which are ultimately sold to as many as 30,000 sportsmen for hand-loading.
The NRA worked with members of Congress to designate the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent study on the feasibility, safety and investigative effectiveness of taggants. The NRA not only supports this study, we also recommended the provision which directs an examination of new preventive technologies. Unlike taggants, these technologies are truly preventive and can detect the presence of the tools of terrorist attack before a tragedy occurs. Taggants come into play only after tragedy has struck.