Using blanks in a firearm might seem like a sure way to guarantee the safety of a target, but “blank” is a misnomer.
Stuntman and actor Johann Ofner, 28, died during the filming of a music video for Australian hip hop group Bliss n Eso in Brisbane on Monday.
The circumstances of Mr Ofner’s death are still under investigation but police said the production “was utilising professional stunt performers using firearms”.
Bliss n Eso’s management said a licensed armourer was on the set.
“The exact cause of Johann’s fatal injury is still to be confirmed, but as the gun was loaded with blanks, not live ammunition, the cause was not a bullet or live round,” they said.
Theatrical armourer John Bowring said safety was the main priority on sets where firearms were in use, even if blanks were utilised.
“Generally speaking, and this is something I have trouble with on film sets … people think blanks are safe,” he said.
“The first thing I have to do, if we’re going to be firing blanks, is explain that blanks are not safe.
“That they are very dangerous things and we have to stay very controlled.”
What is a blank?
Put simply: a blank is everything but the bullet, Mr Bowring said.
“If you can imagine a normal rifle or pistol cartridge has a case, which holds it all together, a primer, which … starts it working when the firing pin hits, a propellant charge, which is what the primer ignites, and then a projectile,” he said.
“Now in a rifle or a pistol that’s normally a solid piece of metal.
“A shotgun cartridge is a little more complex because it could be a solid bullet or it could be a whole lot of shot held between wads, which are a way of sealing the gas behind them.
“So coming out of a shotgun blank will be some form of wadding.”
How might a blank cause death?
If someone is hit by a blank, they’re still being hit by an explosive force.
“I want you to think of the bullet as a means of taking the energy from the end of the gun to the target. That’s all a bullet does,” Mr Bowring said.
“You put all that energy into the bullet, and the bullet flies to the target and then hits with such force that it’s the same as being hit by an explosive charge.
“If you’re right up against the gun, you don’t need the bullet. You are being hit by a supersonic gas stream and that could be as high as seven times the speed of sound.
“So you’ve just been injected with gas that’s travelling at such force — it is an explosive charge.
“As you move further away from the muzzle of the gun, that force dissipates out because the shockwave doesn’t travel in a straight line, it balloons out.”
As mentioned, a shotgun blank also includes some sort of wadding.
“So it’s possible for pieces of that wad to be blown out as a projectile,” Mr Bowring said.
“Now, it’s not a hard projectile, it’s not a particularly heavy projectile, but it’s travelling at probably … 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second.”
Why are blanks used instead of visual effects?
Mr Bowring said there were all sorts of reasons why blanks were used, rather than adding visual effects in post-production.
“It depends on the weapon, it depends on the situation, it depends on what the director wants to see, it depends on the budget. So there are all these contributing factors,” he said.
“Very experienced armourers have a whole raft of things they will do to get the effect the director wants.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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