Gun Safety For Reenactors (Rules, Manuals, Checklist)


Attending any type of historical reenactment can be a very enjoyable day. It provides us with the opportunity to see something from history unfold in front of our eyes. The same could also be said for those who take part in the reenactment. They do more than simply watch it happen, they play a vital part. In doing so, they get to have some fun and show people what that moment in history was like.

Most historical reenactments with guns are more than safe. There are specific guidelines that are put in place at each of those reenactments that allow for gun safety, as well as safety in many other parts of the event. As long as the rules are followed, there is no need to be concerned.

guns in reenactment safety rules
Reenactment guns safety rules example – Safety Tests of the Pacific Area Civil War Reenactors

Historical reenactments can be very enjoyable as long as safety rules are followed. That is especially true when it comes to gun safety. Considering the possibility for severe injury or even worse, following stringent safety protocols is vital from the very start.

What is involved in reenactment gun safety?

The need for gun safety is a given at any type of historical reenactment that involves firearms. The exact method of safety, however, is one that may differ from one event to another.

In some respects, the differences may be due to the types of firearms that are being used. Obviously, there is going to be a difference in firearms, especially when you compare events such as a Civil War reenactment and a World War II reenactment.

guns in reenactment examples civil war
Different types of guns used by reenactors, inspiration from www.replicagunsswords.com

There are also going to be many similarities, including the process of ensuring that live ammunition is not being used.

If you are taking part in a historical reenactment, you should familiarize yourself with the safety regulations associated with it. This would include gun safety, which likely would include the following steps:

  • Rigid Firearm Inspections – One of the most important factors for ensuring that the reenactment goes off without injury is the inspection of firearms before the reenactment begins. Every firearm should be thoroughly tested and inspected prior to the time that it is allowed to enter the battlefield.

It is also important to consider the person that is inspecting the firearm. Obviously, you would want someone who was familiar with the type of firearm as they will be determining if there are any problems with it. They will also follow specific guidelines to ensure that projectiles are not an issue.

  • Ramrod Dropped into Barrel – In any type of historical reenactment that involves black powder rifles, one step that will likely be taken is to drop the ramrod into the barrel. This is something that will be done in front of the inspector and it will show that there are no projectiles in the barrel.
ramrod for reenactment gun
Reenactment gun, The Patriot with homemade ramrod made of resin-impregnated wood with antler tip, inspiration from www.hoveysknivesofchina.com

This isn’t only true of the projectiles that may be in place in the barrel but it may be possible that some are stuck in the barrel and could be a serious hazard if they were dislodged while firing on the battlefield.

  • No Ramrods during Reenactment – Although serious injury and death are unlikely to occur at a reenactment, one way that it has occurred in the past is due to projectiles being lodged at the barrel. In addition, somebody firing their weapon with the ramrod in the barrel has been a problem in the past as well.
  • Black Powder Only – If black powder weapons are being used, then only black powder should be allowed on the field. There would be no projectiles allowed in any pouch or pocket.
reenactment gun with black powder
Using black powder for reenactment guns, an example from Southern Chester County SportSmen’s and farmers’ Association; www.sccsfa.org

If another type of weapon is being used, that would only include the gunpowder and not any projectile. Ammunition would have to be checked thoroughly before the reenactment begins.

Other factors may also be considered and reminders will be given prior to the time that the reenactment begins. This would include no close shots being fired. Even if there is not a projectile, there could be an injury if a shot was fired at close range.

Something else that may be considered in some reenactments is having the barrel of the gun elevated when you are firing. It may affect the appearance of the reenactment, but you can’t understate safety when it comes to guns on the reenactment field.

reenactment gun elevated barrel
Firing with an elevated barrel of the gun during reenactment; source – National Geographic

Reenactment gun safety checklist

There will be specific instructions associated with any historical reenactment that cover safety. With gun safety, there will be a checklist that must be followed.

The checklist may include items that would be checked prior to going onto the field. Those would likely include the safety points listed above. There may also be other points that are considered every time the firearm is discharged.

Here are some items that may be on the checklist:

  • Firearms and Ammunition – There may be a number of factors included in firearms and ammunition safety. Obviously, no bullets or other projectiles would be included or allowed onto the field. Ramrods may also not be permitted. If black powder is being used, it may be necessary for it to be prepackaged to avoid confusion.
long arm safety reenactment
Longarm safety protocol example – part of Living History Reenactors Weapons Policy in Bannack State Park; source – www.bannack.org
  • Artillery – If artillery is being used on the reenactment field, it should be free of damage, and clean, with working wheels and parts. Any rounds that are used on the field will be pre-rolled and stored properly.
firing checklist for reenactment artilery
Example of firing checklist for muzzle loading artillery, based on The National Civil War Association safety rules; www.ncwa1863.org

Each reenactment will have different regulations when it comes to the storage and use of artillery rounds. In many cases, they will have to be stored in a specific fireproof box at least 25 feet from the artillery being fired.

There will also be regulations that limit the possibility of spectators getting close to the artillery as well.

  • Edged Weapons – If any edged weapons are being used, such as swords, then there will be specific instructions for their use as well. Blunt weapons are always going to be necessary for reenactments, especially where volunteers are involved.

On rare occasions, there may be standard-edged weapons that are used, but these will be used by professional reenactors that are being paid for the job.

Gun safety for reenactment spectators

The safety involved with reenactments is not only associated with the people firing the weapons. It is also important to consider the spectators that are attending the event as well.

Each event will have its own regulations as far as spectator behavior is concerned. There will be some similarities, however, that may include the following.

  • Stay off the Battlefield – One of the most important factors for keeping reenactment spectators safe is to keep them off the battlefield. Anytime firearms are being discharged, they should be carefully monitored and kept in a location that is safe from harm.
reenactment spectators separation
Spectators separated from the battlefield – Battle of Gettysburg reenactment; source: www.historynet.com (taken from John Moore/Getty Images)
  • No Handling of Weapons – It would be very rare for a historical reenactment to allow spectators to handle any firearms. In particular, they would not be able to fire the firearm. If they are interested in doing so, they could volunteer to take part in another reenactment.
  • Children – There are going to be age restrictions when it comes to having children on the field. More than likely, however, there will not be any age restrictions for children that are watching the event from the sidelines.

It is up to the parents to keep a close eye on their children. When the event is taking place, it is very easy to get distracted and children may end up somewhere that injury could occur. There will be volunteers or paid security on hand to ensure that problems do not occur, but children are the primary responsibility of the parent.

  • Hearing protection – Another factor to consider is hearing protection. For those who are firing weapons on the field, hearing protection is a given. It is also something important to consider for spectators, who may be exposed to loud noises and the potential for hearing loss.
reenactors earplugs types
Examples of different earplugs used by reenactors – as hard to see as possible are the best; example – EarDial HiFi Earplugs from Amazon

As long as the established regulations are followed carefully, there’s no need to be concerned about the safety of firearms on the field. Accidents do happen from time to time, but they are few and far between when the proper steps are taken in advance.

Gun safety for reenactors – manual examples

Each reenactment society might have its own regulations for gun safety – as a member, you should familiarize yourself with those documents.

Here are some examples of such procedures implemented by the biggest associations:

  1. The National Civil War Association Safety Rules – https://ncwa1863.org/membership/safety-rules/
  2. Safety manual for living history exhibits, demonstrations and reenactments by Historic Sites Division Texas Historical Commission (downloadable pdf).
  3. Safety Manual For Historic Weapons by Demonstrations by Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (downloadable pdf).

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