Tougher rules sought for gunfight skits after real shooting

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2015 10:49 AM
Tougher rules sought for gunfight skits after real shooting

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. (AP) — A man in Old West attire drew a revolver, fired a series of shots, and his nemesis fell to the ground with a gunshot wound.

It was supposed to be a simulation of a Wild West showdown in the town made famous by the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But it wasn't good acting — the shooting was real.

The performer's gun fired live rounds instead of blanks Sunday, wounding a fellow actor and giving a bystander a small cut on her neck from a ricochet or shrapnel.

The shooting has led the Arizona town of Tombstone to write up new regulations for the gunfight re-enactments that draw thousands of visitors every year.

Mayor Dusty Escapule said Monday that an inspector checks weapons used in the performances to ensure blanks are loaded. But the actor from the group Tombstone Vigilantes showed up late, and his weapon — a .45-caliber handgun — was not examined, he said.

"I was dumbfounded," Escapule said of learning about the shooting. "I was just appalled the Vigilantes would allow one of the actors to not have their weapons checked."

The town near the U.S.-Mexico border is drawing up more regulations for the mock gunbattles, mandating inspections to ensure blanks are used and requiring background checks for every actor, Escapule said.

He said that he will present the new ordinance at a City Council meeting next week and that all outdoor gunfights are on hold as the investigation unfolds.

Town Marshal Bob Randall said he believes the shooting was an accident, but he will recommend that prosecutors charge the actor with aggravated assault. He said the Tombstone Vigilantes are normally "very good at what they do, and they check their weapons religiously."

When asked why the gun wasn't checked for bullets, he said: "That's the question of the day. Anybody that's been around firearms knows the first thing you do is check your weapon."

The wounded actor, Ken Curtis, was listed in good condition Monday at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, hospital spokeswoman Elyse Palm said. She declined to give further details about his injuries. Curtis said he couldn't discuss the shooting when reached at the hospital.

The bystander, a tourist, did not require medical treatment.

Randall said the marshal's office inspected the weapon and found one live round and five casings that indicated the gun was filled with real bullets.

Tombstone, about three hours southeast of Phoenix, was a booming silver mining town in the 1800s before it went bust. It now has about 1,500 residents, and it mostly caters to visitors who come to see gunfight re-enactments and historical sites.

The town relies on its Old West past, and tourism is the main economic driver. The streets resemble a Hollywood movie set, with historic old saloons and buildings that double as souvenir shops. Besides shooting re-enactments, visitors can attend mock hangings, graveyard tours, ghost tours and wagon rides.

Sunday's shooting came during the busiest time of year as the town hosted its famous Helldorado days, an annual festival that began in 1929. Hundreds of people were near the shooting when it happened, Randall said.

It left locals and tourists in shock. Teresa Benjamin, who dresses in late 1800s prairie outfits to promote a local business, said she worries about the effect on tourism.

"This is our livelihood. This is tragedy," Benjamin said.

But it piqued the interest of some tourists. Mitch Treese stopped in Tombstone on his way to nearby Bisbee out of curiosity.

"We wanted to see if it was really true. They got us on the hook," Treese said.

The shooting was reminiscent of a 2011 incident in Hill City, South Dakota, where a man fired a loaded gun during a Western-themed re-enactment and wounded three tourists. The man, a convicted felon, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after authorities say he tried to cover up the fact that he used lived rounds in the shooting.