Guns in reenactment

When I first started learning about reenactment I often wondered if reenactors use real guns. I did some research on this subject, so, do reenactors use real guns?

Reenactors do use real guns or replicas, but they use blank cartridges. They don’t use real bullets in battle reenactments.

The answer is short, yes they use real guns, but there is more to the tale than that. It's also about what type of weapon to use and what permits you need. That's what I'd like to cover for you in this article.

Civil War muzzleloaders

Types of guns in reenactment and their permits

Depending on what kind of reenactment you are doing and where you are located, you can use Realistic imitation firearms (RIF's), licensed shotguns, black powder firearms, replica Gatling guns, or artillery pieces. It is always important to be aware of the laws around firearms in your area.

Realistic imitation firearms

A RIF is anything that has the appearance of being a firearm, they are designed to look like real weapons.

In the UK, the use of RIF's is restricted by the VCR Act of 2007. This VCR Act stated that you need to be insured. In practice, this means that you need to be a member of an organized group such as NAReS (National Association of Re-enactment Societies).

Real guns

You can use real guns with blanks, but depending on where you live, you might still need a license for these.

Original weapons are sometimes used, but they have to be de-activated by having the barrels blocked and drilled, except in the US where owning a working gun is legal.

Black powder firearms

This type of gun is also known as a muzzleloader. The black powder gun is a replica, using historical firearm technology. This includes hand loading the ammunition and black powder.

Replica Gatling guns

A Gatling gun is an early machine gun. Owning a Gatling gun is legal in the US but in other parts of the world you might need a special license or it might even be illegal to import, possess, sell or transport one.

Artillery pieces

Artillery pieces are a class of heavy military weapons. These include cannons, Howitzers, rocket launchers, and mortars. 

In the US, it is legal to own these types of artillery weapons but licenses and restrictions can vary by state. 

In the UK, you might need a shotgun certificate or a firearm certificate, depending on the size and type of artillery. If you're going to use black powder, you also need an Explosives license.

Do reenactors use real bullets?

No, they use blanks or black powder with a cloth or paper cartridges pushed down on top of the powder. This makes a cloud of smoke and an explosive sound.

Here is an in-depth explanation of how to roll these paper cartridges for Civil War battle reenactments:

Can blanks hurt you?

Yes, accidents can still happen.

The blank cartridges themselves are not dangerous, but the hot gas that comes free can still hurt you. One should never stand directly in front of the blast radius. At close range, the hot gas can easily hurt, blind, or even kill you.

It is common practice at battle reenactment events to aim high when firing toward advancing soldiers. At these events, there are usually strict rules about the use of these blank cartridges and how much black powder you are allowed to use.

Where do reenactors get their weapons?

In history, we had merchants who sold supplies to armies. They sometimes followed the soldiers around to sell them their merchandise.

Today, we still have these merchants, but we can even buy gear on their websites. They can often be found at reenactment events where you can also buy your guns and other gear. 

If you are looking for an original or rare gun, you could try to find them at online auctions, pawn shops, armslist, at gun shows, and even garage sales.

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