Inert, deactivated or neutralized ammunition, what is it and what is the law saying about it?

When do we call ammunition inert, deactived or neutralized, a blank or a dummy? what is the difference? What are the conditions which must be met to deactivate a round?

What does the gunlaw of Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and French say about it?

Want to learn more, well continue on reading.

Some terminology

First we need to make sure everybody talks about the same things. That there is no confusion, so some terminology:

blank (Cartouches « à blanc ») is a type of firearm cartridge that contains gunpowder but no projectile (e.g. bullet or shot), and instead uses something else to seal the propellant into the casing. This can be anything from a piece of carton or plastic, a copied wooden tip or a crimped top. When fired, the blank makes a flash and an explosive noise, and the firearm's action cycles from the recoil, but nothing leaves the weapon that can harm an animal or human being.

Blanks are often used for shooting simulations that demand light and sound such as reenactments, theatre and movie special effects, combat training and for signaling at sporting competitions. 

An inert cartridge (Cartouches « inertes ») is a firearm cartridges that contains no gunpowder, has the correct projectile in or on it, has a fired or no primer. Thus, the shell can be reused to make a round that can be fired again. Extra limitations can apply per country and are handled more in detail further on. Inert cartridges are most of the time used for collecting purposes, display stands and re-enactment. Not for training.

For France (translated from French): Some inert cartridges are intended to check the correct operation of the weapons after a repair: they have the same profile and weight as a real cartridge in order to test the chambering, extraction and ejection functions, but their appearance allows them to be clearly identified as inert cartridges: they are then referred to as « inertes lestées »  or « cartouches-outils ». These inert cartridges are therefore not really cartridges but objects of measurement or instruction and as such, they do not have to be classified whatever their calibre."

Dummy round or drill round can be made from an inert cartridge or from something totally not related to ammunition. If it is made starting from a inert shell it may not contain a primer. Sometimes the bullet and the shell are one part, or the shell has literal dents in it. Accasionally a hole is drilled in it.

The primary role of a dummy cartridges is so-called cold training or function-testing firearm actions. For that reason they can also be made of plastic, red rubber,…. As they are used in real firearms from time to time they are made with a dummy primer placed after a spring to spare the firing pin. Puffer shells are a good example.

One special example is a dummy with a red flag attached to it, called a gun safety flag plug.

deactivated or neutralized cartridge (Cartouches « Neutralisées ») cartridge is a firearm cartridges or shell that can’t be used anymore to create a live round. Most of the times complete cartridges are made for collectors that contains no gunpowder, have the correct projectile set on it, have a fired primer and have a hole drilled in the shell. Extra limitations can apply per country and are handled more in detail further on.

Deactivated cartridges are most of the time used for collecting purposes, display stands and re-enactment. Not for training.

Ammunition belts

For our ammunition belts we create and use deactivated or neutralized cartridges. This gives the best effect and reassembles the closed the real deal.

The neutralization hole, how big and where?

Well, that is a the 1.000.000 dollar question. It is very hard to find something about it.

On a French site we found this:

The current regulation has fortunately provided a clear definition of the neutralization of cartridges, which to be considered as such must have 

  • their case pierced with a 2mm hole and 
  • have their primer percussed. 

Projectiles mounted on the cartridge, on the other hand, remain classified in category A if they are perforating, incendiary or explosive. Neutralization does not apply to ammunition with a caliber greater than 20mm, which remains classified in category A, even if all explosive material has been removed.

This text was found and translated from here. Any reader who is able to provide any other information is welcome to contact us.

As no more information is available and we can see the hole on all sites that sell deactived ammunition worldwide, we tend to believe those terms. To make sure we at Cobra comply with them we

  • drill a hole of diameter 3mm in the case
  • make sure every primer is percussed
  • and use standard lead core bullets to reload

Legislation on inert ammunition

Let now check what the local gun laws in some country tell us about the deactived or neutralized ammunition being free or not and if we are able to ship them to you.


For Belgium we need to read between the lines. The first thing i could find on a site [2] related to archeology was: "Het verzamelen van geneutraliseerde munitie (dat wil zeggen inerte, lege hulzen zonder kruit en ontstekingsinrichting) is vrij. Het betreft hier munitie die GEEN ontplofbare stoffen bevat."

Or translated: “The collection of neutralised ammunition (i.e. inert, empty shells without gunpowder and detonator) is free. This is ammunition that contains NO explosive substances.”

After some feedback from a Belgian gun law specialist I was redirected to “Omzendbrief van 25 oktober 2011 over de toepassing van de wapenwetgeving - hoofdstuk 19 - Bijzonderheden over munitie en onderdelen” part 19.2 Munitie [3]. It states:

In principe is op munitie voor vuurwapens dezelfde regeling van toepassing als die voor de wapens waarvoor ze bestemd is. Ze is ook van toepassing op bepaalde onderdelen van die munitie: de patroonhulzen en de projectielen. Dit geldt niet voor onbruikbaar gemaakte onderdelen en evenmin voor het kruit en afzonderlijke slaghoedjes. Blanke munitie heeft geen projectiel en vaak is de huls ervan ingekort en dichtgeknepen. In dat geval mag ze niet worden gelijkgesteld met munitie en zijn de onderstaande regels er niet op van toepassing. Dit is echter wel het geval als het gewone projectiel is vervangen door een ander voorwerp dat wordt afgeschoten met behulp van een “blanke” patroon (bijvoorbeeld een voorwerp dat moet worden teruggebracht door een jachthond of een netgun).

Or translated to English: “In principle, ammunition for firearms is subject to the same rules as ammunition for firearms what she's intended for. It also applies to certain parts of that ammunition: the cartridge casings and the projectiles. This does not apply to parts that have been rendered unusable, nor to for the gunpowder and separate percussion caps. Blank ammunition has no projectile and often its sleeve is shortened and pinched. In that case it should not be assimilated to ammunition and the following rules do not apply to it application. However, this is the case if the normal projectile has been replaced by another one an object shot using a "white" pattern (e.g. an object that has to be brought back by a hound or a netgun).

So we can state that theBelgian gun law is not applicable to shells or cartridges that have been made unusable. However, how to make the shell or cartridge unusable is not defined. I suppose drilling a hole in it, to universal standards, is just fine, as you can’t use that shell anymore to create live firing rounds. 

Remark: inert ammunition stays subjected to Belgian gun laws and is not free to buy.

The Netherlands, Regeling wapens en munitie [4]

10. Vrijstelling voor vuurwapens en munitie, Artikel 18

f. kennelijk gebruikte lege patroon- en kardoeshulzen bestemd voor dan wel deel uitmakend van een verzameling;

i. projectielen en hulzen, eventueel samengevoegd tot patronen, die een onderdeel vormen van een monster-, verzamel- of overzichtsbord, voor zover zij niet zijn voorzien van een ontstekende, voortdrijvende of brisante lading en voorzover zij op deugdelijke wijze permanent op het bord bevestigd zijn.

10. Exemption for firearms and ammunition

Article 18

f. Apparently used empty cartridge cases and cartridge cases intended for or included in a collection;

i. projectiles and casings, which may be assembled into cartridges, forming part of a sample, collection or display board, provided they do not have an igniting, propelling or bursting charge and are securely fixed permanently to the board.

Hmm strange, they don’t mention the drilled hole, just that they need to be empty.

But they do only mention the shells. So cartridges with a bullet on them are NOT free in the Netherlands.


Union Française des amateurs d’Armes [5]

Conséquences pour l’amateur d’armes

  • Les cartouches neutralisées selon la procédure prévue par la règlementation sont en catégorie D. 
  • Les cartouches à blanc sont soit non classées soit de la catégorie de l’arme à laquelle correspond l’étui, si ce dernier est récupérable pour confectionner une munition à balle.
  • Les cartouches inertes d’usine ne sont pas classées, y compris celles d’un calibre supérieur à 20 mm.

Or translated this reads as:

Consequences for the gun enthusiast

  • Cartridges neutralized according to the procedure provided for in the regulations are in category D. 
  • Blank cartridges are either unclassified or of the category of the weapon to which the case corresponds, if the latter can be recovered to make a bullet ammunition.
  • Factory inert cartridges are not classified, including those with a calibre greater than 20 mm.

Categorie D [6]

Les armes de la catégorie D peuvent être achetées et détenues librement (avec quelques restrictions, notamment en matière de vente aux mineurs).

Translated, this gives: Category D weapons can be purchased and held freely (with some restrictions, including on sales to minors).

Pay attention to the text below!

Cartouches « Neutralisées » :  La neutralisation ne s’applique pas aux munitions d’un calibre supérieur à 20mm, qui restent classées en catégorie A, même si l’on en a retiré toute matière explosive.

Ainsi, proposer à la vente un obus de .30mm Neutralisé constitue une infraction à la loi, alors qu’un obus de 30mm Inerte n’est qu’un objet décoratif en matière plastique ou en métal non précieux, dont la détention est tout à fait libre.

Thus, offering for sale a .30mm Neutralized shell is a violation of the law, whereas a 30mm Inert shell is merely a decorative object made of plastic or non-precious metal, which can be freely possessed.

So, a neutralized, blank cartridge or a factory inert cartridge is free no matter it’s diameter. But an inert one  with a diameter more then 20mm is never free!

United Kingdom

This one is the most clear and transparent

Display Boards and decorative purposes 2.55 In the absence of a court ruling, inert cartridges and ammunition mounted on display boards are not regarded as being subject to the Acts. Similarly, inert bullets mounted on key rings or cuff links are assumed to be exempt.

[7] Today here in the UK, inert, collector ammunition does not require a firearms certificate and no special precautions other than common sense need to be taken for their storage and display, however it is important to note the law may be different for international collectors. In all cases it is your responsibility to check the rules governing buying and selling to make sure your collecting is fully compliant with law. 

You need to break something to create something

Obviously this process damages the finish of the ammunition, so many collectors pieces are reassembled from original parts to retain the look of their original specification whilst being completely inert. Whilst the collector ends up with a very interesting display piece that looks complete and unfired, this approach has its obvious draw backs. It is very difficult to tell the inert ammunition apart from the lethal, live version. 


The process of deactivation involves disassembly and sometimes drilling to remove explosive. Deactivation should only ever be carried out by qualified disposal, explosives or ammunitions experts with years of handling experience.









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