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One of my regrets is never taking a firearms class from the late Louis Awerbuck. My impression of him is that he brought a deadly seriousness to his classes that only someone who had ‘seen the elephant’ repeatedly – and had lost family members to violence – could. Louis used a deactivated 1911 with a plugged barrel for demonstration purposes while he taught. I recall one of his students testifying that Louis showed the gun to his class, then asked if any of them wanted to examine it. When no one took him up on his offer, he immediately chastised them . . .

They should take no one’s word on a firearm’s state of readiness — not even, and especially his, since he made mistakes just like everyone else. When it comes right down to it, if you’re training and someone is pointing a ‘dummy’ gun at you, you’d better be damned sure that the gun is the dummy, and not you.

That rang in my ears when I read the story of Tom Carter, a member of the Tombstone Vigilantes, a troupe that re-enacts old West gunfights and mock hangings in the town of Tombstone, Arizona. The Washington Post has the story.

…(O)n Sunday afternoon, what should have been a quaint spectacle turned deadly when an actor in an O.K. Corral gunfight re-[enactment] and a bystander were shot after live ammunition was used.

“The Tombstone Vigilantes were engaged in a street skit involving animated gunfights in the 400 block of Allen Street,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark J. Dannels said in a statement. “During the skit, Actor Tom Carter and Victim Ken Curtis were faced off against each other and when Tom Carter fired his firearm, Ken Curtis fell to the ground after being struck by a live round.”

It was not clear why live ammunition was used. Tucson’s KVOA reported that one actor “was late to the show and his weapon was not checked before the reenactment.”

“The vigilantes immediately stopped the show and Tom [Carter] was relieved of his weapon,” the sheriff said. “During inspection of his weapon, it was discovered that there was one live round in the cylinder with five expended casings indicating the gun had held six live rounds prior to the skit. It was later learned that at least two of the live rounds struck businesses located at the East end of Allen Street, approximately 680 feet from the skit, with one bullet striking a woman standing in front of the Bird Cage Theater identified as Debbie Mitchell and additional bullet fragments striking nearby buildings.”

To recap: two people wounded, and some property damaged because the person using a firearm during a re-enactment didn’t bother to check to make sure that the gun did not contain live ammunition. It isn’t clear from the story whether Carter was using his own gun or not, but regardless, it’s still the responsibility of the man with the pistol to make sure that he’s not in danger of harming anyone unintentionally.

Curtis, the other actor wounded, was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery, reports the Post.

No word on whether or not Carter will be allowed to participate in future Tombstone Vigilante events. Regardless, we hope that the next time he handles a firearm for theatrical or other purposes, he will mediate on his shiny Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day award, and take a little extra time for safety.


DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.

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  1. You would think if you did re enactments for a living you would buy a blank firing replica specifically for the event, or at least set aside one of your guns to be your ‘blank’ gun.

    • …..Are you suggesting the use of common sense sir?! Go ahead and punch yourself in the face. Get that nonsense out of here

    • Even so, the blank gun should be checked, if for no other reason to make sure it’s actually your blank gun and not your Cowboy Action gun.

    • I do train robbery re-enactments every year and I use revolvers that I use for live shooting at other times.

      The consequences of a mistake are so serious that I take prep of those revolvers with the utmost seriousness. I can’t imagine how anyone could do otherwise. I check their state before I leave the house. I check their state when I arrive onsite. I check their state when loading blanks (and of course visually inspect every blank I’m loading). I check their state right before the event begins.

      I don’t keep any live ammo in my belt loops where I or anyone else could inadvertently grab it.

      It sounds like a lot of repetition, but it takes only seconds. The repetition is necessary, because when you do the same checks over and over, it’s pretty easy to imagine that you already did the previous check, because it’s there as a memory from last time. So you repeat.

      I would never, ever, simply grab a gun out of the safe and never check it again until I’m pulling the trigger with it pointed at another human. That’s just insane.

      Also, I keep all my revolvers in the safe loaded with live ammo. I actually consider that a safety measure: it reminds me to treat all guns as loaded, because that’s their default state. I’m never encouraged to think “Yeah, I remember unloading this before I put it away.”

      If you ever catch yourself thinking, “Yeah, I remember unloading this before I put it away,” you need to stop yourself right there and check.

      • But who checks that you are checking? That’s the missing link. Seems prudent that you would partner up with someone so you can gear check each other before a show.

      • Having choreographed many gunfights for stage productions – as well as participated in them – I’m a stickler for a gun wrangler handling all prop guns in a production. No performer would be allowed to use their own gun in a show. Period. Also, the performers must check their own guns before going onstage (or in the street for Wild West shows). Even then, I would make damn sure no one was in the line of fire when shooting the guns.

        Actually, I’m not a stickler, I’m a motherf*cker when it comes to gun safety in those shows. And my success rate of no injuries from any gun is 100%.

    • Nah. You have to take the same safety measures regardless, so you’re not really saving anything — you have to assume that in some dumbass moment you loaded some live rounds in your blank gun for some forgotten reason and check it anyway. It doesn’t remove the need for any of the usual safety rules and checks, so I don’t see any problem with using a gun for both live and re-enactment purposes.

    • I imagine that the shooter should have noticed on the first shot that it wasn’t a blank round and stopped.

      Actually, he should have checked before hand. The story does not make sense. It makes more sense if the person did a deliberate shooting. Perhaps there was a vendetta going on.

      • I know, it sure is suspicious, but it seems to me that angling for a “negligent homicide” charge is a weird way to go about murdering someone. You have to know that the shooting is going to be heavily investigated and that if they find motive, then they won’t hesitate to charge you with pre-meditated murder.

      • Tucson’s KVOA reported that one actor “was late to the show and his weapon was not checked before the reenactment.”

        Seems there was to be a check but it was skipped

        • Yeah, but still, the first shot should have clued him in that something was very, very wrong. Maybe he was using cowboy loads, or something…

    • I seem to recall from a (quite a) few years ago a famous actor in Hollywood killed by a pistol firing blanks. Seems there was some obstruction in the barrel and the next blank round cleared it into the actor’s abdomen.

      It is all too easy when you do stuff like this on a regular basis to get complacent. As noted, the best solution is to train yourself to the habit of doing a thorough safety check before each scene, and as noted above, also ensure the barrel is unobstructed.

      • It was Jon-Erik Hexum star of the TV show “Cover Up” the reports were he got bored with delays and started laying with a pistol. He stuck it to his head, pulled the trigger, and the blank killed him.
        Most sets don’t let actors hand on to weapons.

  2. The difference in felt recoil between a “live round” and a blank round would have let Tommy know there was an issue with his ammo after his first shot. There is more to this story.

  3. It seems to me that everyone involved is irresponsible, including the “victims”. I certainly wouldn’t let someone point a gun at me I didn’t know for gosh darn sure was safe. Heck, even typing that statement makes me cringe.

  4. Wait. Any show using guns, usually has a safety officer who is in charge of checking any weapons before any shooting starts. I’m not relieving Mr. Carter of his primary responsibility here, but there were probably multiple points of failure here, and they ALL need to be looked into.

    • I’ve worked on quite a few shows that did not have an armourer, safety officer, or a propsmaster who was versed in firearms. That is the ideal, but many low budget productions do not have dedicated weapons handler.

  5. This should be a lesson to all you Glocksters who say they are the ultimate safety. In one sense you are correct but the human element is the weakest link in the safety chain. If you rely solely on the weakest link to ensure your safety then you will have a tendency to fail. The 4 rules + a mechanical safety + using your head = common sense gun safety

    Trade your Glock for an XD. not only is it a better gun it is a safer gun.

    • Or I dont no dont pull the trigger when the gun is aimed at something you dont plan on killing/maiming/destroying and you should be aok or trade one gun without a manuel safety for one without a manuel safety thatll make it ok when u aim and shoot a human. The grip safety makes the bullet not kill I 4got

    • I am not sure how someone putting live rounds into a single action revolver at a cowboy show has any bearing in the Glock vs. XD argument.

    • How does single action cowboy guns with live rounds and no common sense, play into your misdirected comments? Brand wars have a place and this negligence is not that place.

    • I have a few Glocks and my wife has an XD(m).

      If you load either one with live ammo, grip it properly and pull the trigger, it will go bang.
      Every. Single. Time.

      The vast majority of negligent discharges involve pulling the trigger on a gun that “I didn’t think was loaded.” While the human brain may be the weakest link in the safety chain, there is no mechanical device that hasn’t been disabled by human stupidity.

      What this has to do with the story at hand, I have no idea (unless you think their single action revolvers should have mechanical safeties?). Reenactments require willful violations of Rules 1,2 and 3. As mentioned above, there should be multiple people involved in the safety process and that clearly wasn’t the case.

      • In fact some newer model SA revolvers do have a safety – a hammer block that will prevent a discharge if the operator doesn’t get it backasswards. I know because I managed to pull an ND while on the range prepping to fire: hammer block in place, pull trigger prior to beginning my firing. Wait, what was that? Oh great, hammer block goes the OTHER way!? Fortunately the barrel was pointing down range for Mr. Sheepish here.

        • You mean the Heritage Rough Rider models?

          Their safety seems really solid to me, but their manual still says to not lower the hammer over a live round. I think they’re just being super liability-averse, though. I still only load five when carrying.

          I’ve also got a Chiappa SA with a truly annoying trigger block that takes a tool to engage, so it operates effectively as no safety during active use. Functionally it’s the same as tje Rough Rider, but since it’s such a pain in the ass to engage/disengage, you’re not going to be doing it between shots. Only ever load five in that one.

          My Ruger has no manual safety, but does have a transfer bar, so you can safely load six.

    • I am going to respond to everybody in one post.

      As usual you all miss the point of the article. //THE HUMAN ELEMENT IS THE WEAKEST LINK IN THE SAFETY CHAIN.// It was not about wild west reenactments.
      Safety less pistols rely entirely on you so they are set up to fail.

      There is a grip safety on the XD series pistol. You have intend to shoot it for it to go off. You can handle it without releasing the grip safety. Its one flaw is you have depress the grip safety to rack the slide. On a 1911 you can perform those operation without releasing the grip safety. FYI. a the thumb safety is actually the backup safety that was added by Cavalry Board. It also has a indicator that tells you it’s cocked and a big chamber loaded indicator. So you know when a round is in the chamber and the pistol is ready to fire. That doesn’t mean you can point it at yourself or someone else absent those indicators. So yeah there is a big difference between a Glock an an XD.

      • No, you’re just ragging on Glocks, and you picked the exact wrong accident to do it with, because in this instance, the shooter pulled the trigger deliberately, knowing he was pointing it at a human, expecting a bang, and got the wrong type of bang.

        This incident says nothing regarding the safety of Glocks except to illustrate that in many incidents, all the mechanical safeties in the world won’t make a difference. The SA revolver’s “manual safety” was the hammer. The shooter had to cock it. He did.

        If you point an XD, a Glock, a 1911, an HK or any other gun in the world at a target, disengage its safeties and pull the trigger, it will perform exactly the same function.

        • Almost all NDs occur during administrative handling. We don’t hear about most of them because nobody was in the way of the outgoing bullet, As reported on TTAG, Glocks have been prone to going off on reholstering because something gets caught up in the trigger guard. It probably hapoens more often than is generally thought because nobody got hurt. There are many incidents where a grip safety woukd have prevented these NDs.. I understand why people don’t feel comfortable with a manual safety on their EDC gun but the grip safety provides a low impact solution to the human error oroblem. It gets automatically disengaged when you draw with a purpose.

      • Glocks have a indicator too its called one of the 4 safety rules. Treat all guns as if they are loaded. The human is the strongest safety. Dumb humans like you are the unsafe ones

        • I had an XD and wish you could rack the slide without disengaging the grip safety. Ask me how I know this is a poor design.

          If all pistols left the slide unlocked when on safe, you could clear the weapon with safety on, which is inherently safer. My MP works like that and I think it is a great feature.

        • I thought the point of the article was found in first two paragraphs with the remainder as an example. It’s about human error and not cowboy action shooting but heah, if you want to ignore the actual lesson who am I to judge.

          • You want to talk about human error, then we can talk about the lady that killed her son with her car because she pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal when he was opening the garage door. But I guess that wouldn’t allow you to boast about your XD.

        • It’s about human error and failures that cannot be prevented by anything but proper handling habits. The first two paragraphs talk about scenarios to which Glocks are neither more nor less vulnerable than any other gun.

      • As has been pointed out your point has nothing to do with this situation. You really are all over the place with your attempt at logic. The majority of striker fired pistols do not have a grip safety but you have decided to single out one brand. You are not fooling anyone.

      • tdi, not to get off track too far, because I understand what you are saying, and what others are too-

        now you are retired, can you tell us some stories about being in the NSA Directors office, fly on the wall style?

    • TDIwhereveryouare

      I think I *do* see your point, and your respondents are being concrete-bound and overly literally minded. The circumstances don’t matter here, what matters here is that this is quite clearly a HUMAN failure.

      How many times have we seen stories where (manual) safetyless guns have an ND, people start dumping on the specific brand (usually a Glock, because they’re the most popular of that type) and other people stick up for them claiming the only safety needed is the one between their ears? How foolproof is that? Emphatically NOT foolproof, and anyone who doesn’t realize the safety between their ears will fail from time to time is a shiteating moron. (Yeah, go ahead and edit that, mods–it’s still true.)

      If you in your judgment want to rely purely on the safety between the ears, OK then. But don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s as safe as the safety-between-the-ears PLUS another safety.

      As for those of you attempting to defend your firearm of choice by claiming that it works as defined (e.g. some variation of “when you pull the trigger it will fire, same as any other gun), that’s a non-sequitur. It working as designed isn’t the issue, it is the design itself that may (or may not) be the issue. You’re focusing on something irrelevant.

      Full disclosure: I own a couple of Glocks, but prefer (and carry) safety-style CZs, which have no grip safety but do have second strike capability, otherwise they are very 1911-like but in my experience far more relaible than the bright shiny barbecue bling queens I see at the range. My one try with an XDs resulted in it failing to fire when I wanted it to, because somehow even though I was gripping the gun, the grip safety didn’t disengage. [OK, so now I have offended absolutely EVERYONE who is in this conversation, with the possible exception of myself. :D]

      Everyone’s circumstances, contexts, and tastes are different; the key is to rationally understand the differences and pluses and minuses of your approach and preferences instead of adopting a “Heresy! Burn the Heretic!” approach to those with differing priorities.

      • How many times have we seen stories where (manual) safetyless guns have an ND,

        should be

        How many times have we seen stories where (manual) safetyless guns are NDed,

      • Go find a story of a negligent discharge involving a Glock that would not have happened with a Springfield or 1911. Send it to thetruthaboutguns (at) and maybe RF will run it. Then maybe there can be an insightful discussion about mechanical safety devices and their utility or lack thereof.

        This is a story about a reenactment. It’s a story that involved a level of human stupidity sufficient to override every mechanical safety ever devised. Like most reenactments, it involved the willful violations of Rules 1,2 and 3. Nothing John Moses Browning ever dreamed of will prevent such tragedies.

    • Not quite that simple. They were using a real 9mm pistol and had created ‘prop bullets’ by dumping the powder out of real bullets and reassembling them. Now to you and me we call those squibs, and that’s exactly what they did. During an earlier take someone fired the handgun and lodged a bullet in the barrel. Later that day, they loaded blanks into the same gun to film the next scene, and the blank cartridge combined with the projectile already seated in the barrel turned into a live round that killed Lee. Still a massive safety failure but not a particularly easy one to catch. Multiple people would have had to be very knowledgeable about firearms to catch that one before it happened.

      • Google “Jon Erik Hexum” and see just how he accidentily killed himself with a blank .44 Magnum cartridge.

    • No he died because the lees are cursed by the a ancient Chinese dragon that bruce killed in a epic fight. Being serious no one loaded a live round ib the gun, there happened something in the barrel and when the blank fired it ejected the object like a bullet

      • Yep. live really needs a mental health eval. Everybody knows that Chuck Norris killed that dragon. But the evil spirits were so afraid of Chuck they just beat up on the Lee’s instead.

    • Sounds like Tom was running late, and everybody knows Tom, so no one checked…

      Seems like a whole lot of complacency led to this.

  6. Well maybe the anti gun peeps have it right.

    Maybe people are too stupid to be allow to own firearms.

    I mean, if you’re too dumb or poor to separate your blank guns from your live ones…..

    Holy ****

    Just….. Holy ****

    Come on!

    Might as well hand the 2nd amendment on a silver platter.

    This ranks up there with two cops playing with their service pistols and shooting each other while in the barracks…. I’m sure it happened already.

  7. I’ve never done any cowboy action shooting or Old West reenactments, although I attended training courses at Ft. Huachuca AZ and watched “The Wild Bunch” reenact the OK Corral shootout at Tombstone on a Sunday afternoon and later come into the Crystal Palace Saloon to drink and spend silver dollars. No (real) casualties occurred.

    Later I got into 18th c. reenacting and was in a unit that portrayed British soldiers of the 1775 era. We had definite safety proceedures with our flintlock muskets. We only used blank paper cartridges that were issued by the unit – nobody was allowed to used home-rolled rounds. When we formed up for battle, our commander had us all “spring” our ramrods down the barrel in front of him to ensure our musket was unloaded. The same was done after the battle to ensure nobody was carrying a still-loaded musket. When we loaded, we simply poured the powder from the paper cartridge into the muzzle of the barrel and discarded the paper – no ramrods were used. During the battle, we were trained to elevate the muzzles of our muskets above the heads of the opposing line of troops, just in case some fool had somehow got his rammer into his musket’s barrel and forgot it. Safety rules also dictated that nobody fired (individually or in volleys) at opposing troops closer than 30-40 yards away. In addition to all that, the reenactment site usually had a safety officer that ensured all muskets were unloaded before and after battles, and that all musket half-cock safety notches worked.

    My opinion of the Tombstone show that produced these casualties? Probably done with little/no supervision by a group of hobbyists with the cooperation of the city. If the show continues, that will probably not be the case in the future.

    • That level of meticulous attention to detail keeps events safe.

      For this type of event (cowboy reenactments) I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just use a replica revolver with a blocked barrel. If you load live ammo into it, the only person you’re likely to injure is yourself.

  8. When I teach folks I tell them that if God Himself were to hand them a weapon and tell them it’s not loaded, they better check it. Because its not about trusting the other person, its about a habit pattern that will keep you alive.

  9. I haven’t been shot and hope to never be. But if I have to be shot I hope it’s by a guy with a hat and stache like that.

  10. One of my regrets is never taking a firearms class from the late Louis Awerbuck

    Me too. In a business of mall ninja-pandering clowns, his books and articles really stood out to me.

  11. This isn’t the first time a negligent wounding has taken place at “Western” reenactments and sadly it probably won’t be the last. Nearly ten (10) years Wild West City in N.J. had a similar incident and as anyone here can imagine the anti-gunners and Democrats in Trenton went nuts with hearings and proposed and enacted legislation.

    After years of legal wrangling the park paid out over $2 million to the young actor left paralyzed and it’s legal fees were enormous. New rules were established including firearms dedicated only for park use and NO “live” ammo with projectiles is to be stored on premises where the parks “entertainment” firearms are kept (they had been storing live ammo right next to blanks). Under the new rules the owner can keep non-performance firearms and standard ammo for pest control/hunting etc. but not in the same building where actors weapons/ammo are kept and ALL guns used in skits undergo rigorous inspection before each performance.

    • “they had been storing live ammo right next to blanks”
      That’s a whole lotta stupid right there.

      • There is at least one common denominator in the negligent shootings at Tombstone/OK Corral and N.J.’s Wild West City and that is the “actors” were “in a rush” and running late for the scheduled performance. For the most part the actors are “volunteers” or working for low pay and often doing it for fun while working other jobs. Their intentions are good as a majority of the audience is kids and school groups but one solution may be to set a mandatory “reporting time” like a 1/2 hour before the event is to take place so everyone involved has time to prepare properly..

  12. The victim was Ken Curtis. Another actor by the same name played Festus on Gunsmoke as well as many other westerns and being a singer.

  13. We have to do inventory and a serial number check on our long-term storage mobility M-4s a couple times a year. Those weapons are in locked “coffins”, in a limited-access, alarmed vault, behind a security fence, The only time those weapons are routinely touched is when my folks or the CATM folks touch them for maintenance or inventory. You know what I do every time I pull one out of the box? Yup, pull back the charging handle to do a chamber check. Every single time, every single weapon, no matter what. And if my troops don’t do the same they hear about it (very, very “clearly”!). Like the commenter above said, if God himself handed me a weapon and said it’s unloaded I’m doing a chamber check first!

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