Tag Archives: firearms safety

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.


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Q&A: Firearms Handling

What are some non verbal indications that someone is good with guns (any and all)? Like, how someone holds a gun, their stance, where their holster is, etc.

In most cases it’s easier to know when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. With that, there are enough that I wouldn’t pretend to be able to create an exhaustive list. The big ones that will send anyone with firearms training up the wall are trigger discipline and barrel control.

Trigger discipline is about keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. It’s a really simple thing, and something everyone handling a gun should practice. Hollywood hates it. Or at least, some directors in Hollywood (apparently) think their actors should have their fingers on the trigger at all times, “because it looks more dangerous.” Which, you know, it actually is. Stupidly dangerous.

Most people who know what they’re doing will rest their index finger along the frame over the trigger. This isn’t the only way, some will simply have their finger sticking out at an awkward angle (and a lot of people will do that during reloads).

Barrel control is keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. “Safe,” is a bit of a loaded term here, since, if your goal is to use the gun on someone, you’re going to be pointing it at them. Again, this is basic safety. This is a little more involved, because no matter what you do, the gun will be pointed somewhere. The important part is
remembering that, and not pointing the gun at someone’s thigh when you’re not using it.

As with trigger discipline, this is an incredibly basic element of gun safety, that a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing will easily miss.

There are a lot of other potential tells, someone who drops their magazines rather than retaining them, probably doesn’t know what they’re doing. (This is the practice of discarding a partial or empty magazine when reloading, instead of keeping it.) TV and film love presenting people dropping mags, probably because it looks more dramatic, but it is a pretty good sign that someone’s only education came from mass media.

Concealment isn’t cover. This is one of the few that does tend to separate trained shooters from untrained ones. In a shock to no one, bullets pass through objects in their environment. Taking cover means far more than hiding behind a car door or couch.

So, concealment means you cannot see your opponent. Cover means they’re hiding behind something that will take a bullet. Most of the time, just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot them. Someone hides behind a wall in a home or office? Yeah, you can shoot straight through that. Drywall, almost all furniture, most parts of a vehicle, most garage doors… none of that will stop a pistol round. When you start dealing with rifle rounds, even things like exterior walls start getting iffy. Trained shooters will fire through concealment. Amateurs who learned how to shoot from Call of Duty and reruns of old Arnold movies will try to take cover behind a couch.

Firing until you run dry. This is a little trickier because trained shooters will do this on the range. No one’s shooting back, and you’re going to immediately repack the mag anyway. In the field though, emptying your magazine is a seriously dangerous situation. Reload partials when you have the opportunity to, don’t wait for it to run empty, and have a non-functional gun when you need it.

The problem with all of this information is; it doesn’t really answer your question. It tells you things to look for with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Not how to identify someone who really does. This is because it’s far easier to identify things that an incompetent shooter will do, rather than tells that are exclusive to someone who really knows what they’re doing in contrast to someone who has a basic understanding of gun use.

Some of these also aren’t easy to operationalize. For example, with stance, There’s Weaver, Chapman, Center Axis Relock,  Modern Isosceles, and many more. There isn’t a, “correct,” or, “elite,” way to do choose one of these, and many experienced shooters will tailor their stance to match the situation they’re in on the fly. The exact way they do that, or if they choose something that isn’t a functional stance, like Gangster Style (holding a handgun horizontally at arm’s length), can tell you about their training and how comfortable they are with a gun, but it’s not something you can easily explain in abstract. (At least not without going into all of the pros and cons of the various stances, and spending a lot of time going through all of the debate on the subject.) There’s also a lot of blending between some of these stances, and “adapted,” “reverse,” or “modern” variants of them.

It’s easy to distinguish someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing from someone who’s had some basic training, but distinguishing between someone who knows what they’re doing, and someone who is actually good with the weapons can be tricky.

I am sorry if that doesn’t really answer your question.


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How unrealistic is it to keep a loaded gun under your pillow? I remember some stuff you posted a while ago about how easy it is to accidentally fire a gun, and was wondering if that makes guns under the pillow a bad idea.

I’m not sure “realistic” applies. It is a really bad idea, and a major violation of gun safety procedures, but that doesn’t stop some people from doing it.

You’re not supposed to store ammunition with a gun at all, and you’re never supposed to store one loaded. Obviously, keeping a loaded gun under your pillow breaks both those rules.

How likely a gun is to go off under the pillow would depend on the specific gun, and the specific condition it was left in. (Was it safed, is it chambered, ect.) As a general rule, most modern guns have safety mechanisms designed to prevent accidental discharges, but without a specific weapon, I couldn’t tell you if that applies.

(I think we were talking about getting shot while trying to execute a gun disarm, and that is very easy. Firearms are designed for ease of use, so the internal safety mechanisms I just mentioned don’t apply if someone’s actually holding it and ready to fire. Sorry about the confusion, there.)