"Farmers now required to have a license for 'bird bangers'"
Brad Klingele would trust his 13-year-old son to use his bird-scaring gun in the cherry orchard.
But to pack the noise-making gun, which looks more like a toy, Klingele will have to get a federal license and provide his fingerprints and photo identification.
To keep explosives out of the "wrong hands," the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is now requiring farmers who use them to get a license.
ATF gave the contraptions an acronym -- EPCD, for explosive pest control devices -- though farmers typically call them bird bangers, shell crackers or other variations of trade names.
Whatever they're called, many who use the guns to protect their fruit are not happy about the additional regulation.
"It's a joke," said Joe Perry, CEO of Wilson Orchard and Vineyard Supply in Yakima. "You can quote me on that if you want."
The regulation also requires a criminal background check and mandates that users keep the gunpowder-packed cartridges locked inside a flame-proof vault, where they must be signed out for every use. Penalties for violating what is a federal law are as high as 10 years in prison.
Retailers have had to comply with the regulations since 2002, when Congress passed the Safe Explosives Act. Technically, end-users such as farmers have had to comply, too, but the ATF has not enforced it.
That is supposed to change today, although it's unclear exactly how the regulation will be enforced.
The agency sent out a letter in November to all current license holders, such as distributors and retailers, to remind them of the rules and the enforcement deadline.
ATF officials said the bird-scarers are not always as harmless as they seem. The U.S. Bomb Data Center reported 11 criminal incidents involving pest control devices in 2009.
"ATF must weigh the potential threat to public safety from illicit storage and use of these devices against the needs of legitimate end users. Items that may appear harmless cease to be so in the wrong hands," said Scot Thomasson, chief of the ATF Public Affairs Division.