Facing new safety guidelines imposed by the City after a July performance went awry, a spokesman for the Cody Gunfighters said the group’s shows won’t resume in 2016.
Richard Muscio, a founding member and past president of Cody Gunfighters, said the group needs more time to be in compliance with the guidelines, established following a show on July 29 when three spectators were injured after one of the performers mistakenly fired live rounds during the show.
“We won’t have it before the end of the year,” said Muscio, who has stepped in to lead the Gunfighters as they adopt the guidelines and reorganize following the incident. “There’s no way we could possibly get everything done.”
Muscio said the group is “on the same page” with the City’s new regulations, drafted by Police Chief Chuck Baker. But more time is needed to put new rules in place and conduct required background checks since the Gunfighters’ exemption from laws preventing the discharge of firearms in the city limits expires on Sept. 30 anyway. The Gunfighters do intend to be back in the summer of 2017 with a revised show.
“It takes a bit of doing but we’re getting it done,” Muscio said.
The Gunfighters have already moved on some of the new regulations. The group has purchased the commercial blanks that will now be required, rather than blanks supplied, and in many instances manufactured, by members of the show.
Malfunctioning blanks weren’t the problem in July, however. The performer who shot the live rounds grabbed the wrong cylinder, one he normally used for target shooting, and it was loaded.
That gun, which has been sent to the state crime lab for testing, was a cap and ball type. Baker said he still has not received results of the testing. The Cody Police Department report of the incident will not be released until Baker has received the crime lab’s report.
Cap and ball revolvers don’t use modern brass cartridges, but instead use black powder loaded through the muzzle with lead round balls ramrodded on top of the charge. There is no commercially manufactured blank round for this type of gun.
While a favorite of many re-enactors, the design of cap and ball revolvers means this type of gun isn’t as easy to check for live ammunition as a brass cartridge revolver. That’s in part because cap and ball revolvers are susceptible to a dangerous condition known as chain firing. Chain firing occurs when sparks from the cylinder intended to be fired ignites black powder residue in an adjoining cylinder. This can cause the
second cylinder to fire accidentally.
To prevent chain firing, many shooters add grease to the cylinder, covering the roundball. This prevents the spark from following the powder train into another cylinder. Unfortunately, the grease also makes it difficult to tell with a visual inspection whether there is a roundball in the cylinder. The shooter has to instead push a pin through the grease to detect the ball beneath.
All this means the iconic cap and ball revolver, with its distinctive profile shaped by the ramrod mounted under the barrel – a gun so prized by many aficionados of classic Old West firearms – will no longer be used in the show.
Former Gunfighter president Don Bash, who retired from the group before this summer only to return a few weeks into the season, decided to again step aside and let new leadership shepherd in the changes the City regulations require.
Bash did, however, express frustration that the Gunfighters’ long history of safety seems to have been forgotten in the aftermath of the July incident.
One instance of “human error,” he said, had resulted in many forgetting that the Gunfighters had a safety record that is “a lot better than any other group in the country.”
But Muscio, who owns four cap and ball revolvers himself, said he understands the necessity for change.
“It’s one time in 20 years, but it’s one time too many,” he said.
Performers in the show will all need to review and sign the new safety rules and the Gunfighters will proceed with background checks for members who don’t already have concealed-carry permits.
Muscio said members of the group will serve as the site safety manager now required. Three will be selected based on their knowledge of the rules as well as general firearm safety standards. The three will rotate the nights they act as safety manager, and on those nights they will not perform as an actor in the show.
Baker said that meets the city’s guidelines. The conditions don’t require the safety manager to not be a member of the group, just that they are not a performer. And they need to be an authority on the new safety rules.
When the show resumes the Gunfighters’ safety manger will provide the blanks used in the show, Muscio said. The performers will show up with unloaded guns and the safety manager will inspect each firearm to ensure that it is unloaded and in a safe condition to fire. The safety manager will then dispense blank ammunition to each Gunfighter. At the end of the show all blank rounds, fired or not, will be returned to the safety manager.
The Gunfighters will continue to use the double barrel shotgun that is one of the highlights of the show. That gun also will now shoot commercial blanks.
Another step Muscio plans is to hold an annual membership meeting for the Gunfighters in October to elect officers for the coming year. That membership meeting is called for in the group’s bylaws, but hasn’t always been conducted.
The steps the Gunfighters are taking are similar to those imposed in Tombstone, Ariz., following a reenactment shooting accident in October, as well as those developed by organizations such as the Reenactment Guild of America.
Muscio said the procedures the group is putting in place will ensure the Cody Gunfighter show will be as safe as possible for spectators when it resumes in 2017.
“Nothing is foolproof,” Muscio said. “But this is about as foolproof as you can get.”