Q&A: Blanks

Hi! I wanted to know if a gun loaded with blank ammo would weight the same as one loaded with real bullets? and if someone with a lot of gun training could tell the difference? (sorry if you already answered this!)

Objectively: yes. Depending on the cartridge, more than half of the weight can come from the actual bullet itself. So, a blank would lack that weight.

However, being able to tell when you pick it up is a lot harder to pin down. With a smaller magazine, the overall weight difference will be much lower. With a larger magazine, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a partial mag with live rounds, and a full magazine of blanks (going by weight alone).

However, it’s worth knowing, blank rounds do not look like live ones. They do not produce recoil like live rounds. They do not sound like live rounds. In short, this kind of a ruse only works if you hand someone a loaded gun. Even then, if they do a press check, the ruse is over.

Modern metal cartridges have a shell casing, with a bullet seated into open end. Blanks don’t. Their shell casing is there, but the bullet is missing. Instead, some wadding is inserted in front of the propellant and the case itself is crimped shut.

The important takeaway is that, if someone who knows what a bullet should look like, actually sees a blank cartridge, they’ll know something’s wrong.

Also worth remembering that blanks can be lethal at short ranges. (Up to about five feet or six feet, as I recall.) You’re still spraying ignited gunpowder out the barrel, which can result in serious burns at close range. Firing while in direct contact with tissue, will force the rapidly expanding gas into the victim causing serious tissue disruption.

Blanks are useful for a few things. Theatrical performances, magic tricks, starter pistols, and if you need to put the force of a bullet behind something… strange.

Let me explain the last one in a bit more detail. Blank cartridges have utility in allowing you to propel non conventional payloads. This is how some nail guns used to work, by the way.

There have been more inventive uses for blank cartridges. Off hand, a couple M1911 attachments were designed during WWII. One would mount an impact grenade over the barrel, while the other tried to use the pistol as a grappling hook launcher.

The alternative are dud or dummy rounds. These look like live bullets, and are much closer in weight. The distinction here is that there’s no powder or primer, just a bullet, and shell casing. You can press check these without realizing you’re not loading a live round, and can dry fire the gun without having to worry about shooting someone (with some important caveats).

If you’re thinking of one of those loyalty tests, where someone hands a character a gun, and tells them to execute a captive, dummy rounds are the way to go, not blanks.

Dummy rounds are also how you’d set up a shot for a film, where the camera needs close ups of the round being fed into the chamber, or you want to get a shot up the barrel at the bullet itself.

The important caveat with dummy rounds is, it’s still a bullet. Dry firing can’t propel the round out of the barrel, but it can sometimes knock the bullet into the barrel, (called migrating). Switching from dry firing a dummy round, to loading a gun with blanks can create a situation where you have a round in the barrel, and the blank cartridge will propel it like any other bullet. One of the more famous examples of this happening is the death of Brandon Lee.

During shooting of The Crow, the armorer had gone home for the day, and a prop assistant was handling the weapons (which is a very bad idea to begin with). He used a dummy round for close up shots of the bullet moving into chamber on the revolver (which is fine on its own). Then, when setting up for the next shot, dry fired the revolver (never dry fire a gun), and ejected the dummy rounds, before loading a cylinder of blanks (apparently without making any attempt to inspect the barrel, or even to check if the dummy rounds were intact). Then, when actor Michael Massee fired the prop, the blank propelled a live round into Brandon Lee killing him.

The tragedy came out of the prop assistant not following basic safety procedures. This included the production “making” their own dummy rounds by dumping the powder from live rounds. (Without realizing that there would still be a primer charge in the cartridge.)

When it comes to training? No. Your training on firearms (at least in general) wouldn’t let you know if you were just handed a firearm full of blanks, based on the weight. As I said, executing a press check would.

Press checks are where you partially cycle the weapon manually to verify that there is, in fact, a round in the chamber. For most handguns, this is achieved by partially drawing back the slide. For most rifles, you’ll partially cycle the bolt. When handed a gun, it is one of the first things any experienced operator should do. There’s an edge case with revolvers or break open weapons, where opening the breach won’t actually tell you that you’ve got blanks, since you’ll only see the back of the cartridge.

If this is your gun, you can tell if it’s loaded or empty based on weight. You could probably tell if it was fully loaded or partially loaded. You can’t tell if it’s fully loaded with blanks, or partially loaded with live rounds.

If you’re handed a gun, you can’t tell. You don’t know if the Glock you were just handed has one of those 10 round low-cap mags, or if it’s a high-cap mag fully loaded with blanks. In fact, with Glocks in particular, unless you inspect the weapon carefully, you may not even know what it should weigh. The company uses the same pistol frames, and chambers those in a wide range of rounds, from 9x19mm, up through .45, and even 10mm Auto.  This is, to varying degrees, a common problem with a lot of handguns that are available chambered for multiple rounds. This is before you consider the weight differences caused by modifying the weapon with aftermarket parts. This is also true of some rifles, to varying degrees.

This is also true with the whole, recognizing if a gun is empty by weight. If it’s yours, then yes, you should know what it weighs, roughly. Though honestly, it’s more the weight distribution that you’d notice, rather than the overall weight. If you’re simply handed a gun, you won’t have a reliable baseline (even if you think you’re familiar with that model). Still, the first thing you should do, when handed a firearm, is to press check it, and visually inspect the magazine. That would expose if the gun had been loaded with blanks.

-Starke

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