Skip to comments.Shop grounded (Looks like R/C Airplanes to be banned?)
Posted on 03/18/2003 6:00:43 AM PST by ItsTheMediaStupid
March 13-464, 2003 Shop grounded
By Jason Green
A closed sign sits in the window of Clanton's Hobby Shop. It's been there for three weeks and now it sits next to a recently placed for sale sign.
Store owner Ricky Ritch said that he had little choice but to close his business when the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials asked him to stop selling remote control airplanes, rockets, helicopters and fuel containing more than 20 percent nitroglycerin.
On Wednesday, Ritch received a visit from the Justice department, the Homeland Security department and agents from the FBI's Montgomery and Birmingham field offices. That visit confirmed the items he was selling and custom building are now on a list of items the government believes terrorists have begun to use.
The shop owner said he was shocked at the revelation, but once he began thinking about it, he could see how someone could use like items for less-than upright purposes.
"I have planes and helicopters in stock that could carry a pay-load of 40 pounds or so," he said. "I never thought about any of this stuff being more than toys until I started watching television and saw the big deal they were making out of it. Now I am concerned that something I have built in the past might have been or is being used to harm someone else."
The events which have unfolded in Ritch's life and the life of his relatively new local business have also gotten him thinking about visits and phone calls he has received over the course of the past few months. He said there have been out of the ordinary questions regarding the potential payload capacity of certain aircraft as well as the best possible speed of some of the "toys" he sells.
"I originally just thought it was someone interested in getting into the hobby," he explained. "But, now that I think about it, there have been some calls which really didn't make sense. The questions they asked never really had anything to do with getting into the hobby."
Ritch said he is now left with the fear that items he has already built have fallen into the hands of people whom could potentially do harm to American citizens. It's a fear that Ritch never thought he would have to deal with.
"It's just not something I ever thought about happening," He said. "I don't want to think about it."
Also, in 1998 while living in Los Angeles, Ritch said he built 20 aircraft for an individual in California who never wanted a receipt and always paid in cash. The customer told Ritch that he was purchasing the aircraft for friends overseas. There were questions in Ritch's mind then as to what was actually going on, but it wasn't until the customer became more and more insistent that Ritch build the aircraft bigger and more powerful that the local shop owner cut ties and ceased working for that person.
For Ritch, the items he has been encouraged not to sell make up approximately 90 percent of the current stock he has on the shelves of his Second Avenue business.
"I stand to lose about $125,000 because of this," Ritch explained. "The things that make money here are the planes and the fuel. The United Parcel Service and Federal Express are no longer allowed to deliver the types of fuel that it takes to power most of the items I sell. I've basically been put out of business."
Ritch said the only items left on his shelves the government hasn't encouraged him to refrain from selling are a few glue-together models, some remote controlled cars and NASCAR memorabilia. In fact, the remote control cars do Ritch little good, he said, because the fuel it takes to make the vehicles capable of high performance activity can't be delivered. Once the fuel Ritch currently has in stock runs out, it will take an ATF license to purchase and distribute more.
With that in mind, Ritch said he had little choice but to begin thinking about the future of his business. He can either completely change the items his business carries or he can pack everything up and wait. That wait would be until May 24, when Congress reconvenes to discuss the matter of model aircraft and remote controlled aircraft being used by terrorists in attacks.
"I was so disturbed by the entire ordeal that I called my real estate agent and told them to put the store on the market," he added. "As long as it sits there I'm losing money and if I can't sell the items that make me money, it's not much of a business."
Ritch, who is also attempting to sell his home in Clanton and planning to build another in the area, said he doesn't know what his next step is.
He said he must now consider moving into a smaller store and changing the kinds of toys he sells.
Ritch indicated he wasn't told to close his store. However, being unable to sell 90 percent of his stock apparently leaves him with no other viable options. Selling the fuel Ritch currently has in stock will require specific actions in compliance with Homeland Security mandates. The purchaser, as will Ritch, will have to be licensed with the ATF and will be required to undergo background checks among other measures prior to the merchandise changing hands.
Ritch said that it's hard for him to imagine having to do that. Based on information given to him by the FBI and Homeland Security, he has little choice. He will comply.
"I don't think the FBI or Homeland Security or the U.S. Justice Department are organizations that I can take on," he said. "I'll do what they've asked me to do and have I'll have to deal with it. I just could not have imagined this ever happening. All I know is that I would hate to be the guy that sold something that was used to blow something up or was used to knock a plane out of the sky."
Ray Zicarelli, an agent with the Mobile FBI Field Office, said late Thursday afternoon that he could not confirm whether or not agents had been in Clanton. However, he did confirm that there was be some interest in some hobby shops throughout the country.
"There has been no nation-wide canvassing of hobby shops, but the FBI is interested in some hobby shops as they apply to model aircraft," Zicarelli said. "We do not comment on which we have contacted based on security issues. I can say that we have no indication that there is any cause for concern in the area."
I doubt this is policy, or there would have been more stories, and probably press releases from Homeland security.
Sounds like some over the top local FBI or ATF office has misinterpreted things. The ATF is Very Good at that.
I went to an R/C plane hobby shop last week in western Ky. to pick up a new controller and they were doing a very good business. They didn't say anything about Feds stopping this hobby or anything like that. I talked to them about becoming a regular customer and buying my supplies from them. I would have no idea about this guy in the article, but it does sound suspicious.
"I have planes and helicopters in stock that could carry a pay-load of 40 pounds or so,"
Flying 40lbs. of plastic explosives into the grandstands of a baseball game or a NASCAR event would be a pretty effective way to send a message.
And your point is???
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