One definition of a blank cartridge is "a percussion initiated cartridge that does not have a bullet or missile that is designed to be lethal." However, blank cartridges are dangerous if misused and serious injuries and a few fatalities have resulted from their misuse at close range. (A dummy round is not a blank as it is completely inert.)
Some blank cartridges, designed for use in cartridge tools, if discharged in a firearm may seriously damage the firearm and possibly injure the firer. Such blank cartridges generate very high gas pressure inside the cartridge tool and this is one of the reasons for the relatively heavy weight of the tool when compared to the weight of an equivalent firearm.
Blank-firing imitation/replica firearms normally have a hardened steel blockage in the barrel to prevent them from being converted to fire bulleted ammunition. A variety of blank-firing "firearms" are available commercially and blank cartridges are available in a wide range of calibers. Blank cartridges use similar priming compositions and propellants to those used in firearms ammunition and are available in rimfire and centerfire varieties. Some are powered by a primer only and some are powered by a primer plus propellant. The vast majority use brass cartridge cases but steel cases and plastic cases are also known. They can be crimp closed or closed by using a sealing wad (paper or plastic) or wax. Most, but not all, blanks have a head stamp on the cartridge case.
Blank cartridge cases have a wide range of applications:
Training (for example, weapon training, gun dogs)
Signaling (for example, starting pistol)
Fright guns (personal protection) Gas guns (personal protection) Film and theater use "Quick-draw" contests Humane killers (captive bolt type) Saluting cartridges (ceremonial)
Bird scarers Target launching Line throwing Mortar ignition Balloon cable cutting
Spotting charges for practice bombs and mines Artillery shell training adaptors Cleaning industrial furnaces
If smoke is required the blank can be loaded with black powder. Blanks can give the flash and sound of gunfire and can even work the mechanism of a firearm if a blank firing adapter is fitted to constrict the barrel to allow the chamber pressure to be high enough, for the time period required, to operate the moving parts. This is particularly important in military training.
Some special blanks for fast-draw competitions employ a layer of slower burning rifle powder over a layer of faster burning pistol powder. The primer ignites the faster burning pistol powder which in turn ignites the slower burning rifle powder and propels it out of the muzzle of the gun. The burning powder travels far enough to burst a balloon used as the competition target. Wax bullets are also used for competitions and training where a nonlethal projectile is required.
The sealing wad or wax can be a dangerous projectile if the blank is discharged at close range. Even when no form of projectile is involved, the hot, high velocity gases emerging from the muzzle (muzzle blast) when a blank is discharged can also cause serious injury or death at close range. Exposure to these gases is used to advantage in a specialized use of live or blank cartridges, that is, a power head (bang stick or shark stick). This is a specialized "firearm" for use underwater and is meant to be discharged when in contact with the target. They are used for spear fishing, or used against sharks or alligators, for sport, self-defense, or to kill rogue animals. They normally use standard firearm ammunition and are available in a variety of handgun, rifle, and shotgun cartridges (blank cartridges can also be used). Bullets are very inefficient when used in water, traveling for only about 3 feet. By firing while in contact with the target the cartridge energy is expended directly into the flesh. The bullet has a minimal effect; the muzzle blast does the damage as the high pressure gases are forced into the flesh. Most power heads are designed to use commercial firearm ammunition and such ammunition must be waterproof. This can be achieved by coating the primer cup and case mouth with some form of varnish. For shotgun cartridges a rubber object such as a balloon can be used to seal the crimped end.
Blank cartridges can produce fatal wounds when fired at, or near, contact, and they work very well in power heads. As with firearm ammunition, blanks can also damage the eardrums when discharged.
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