The shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a movie set by actor/director Alec Baldwin prompts legitimate questions. For example, what kinds of guns and ammunition do actors use in movies? Are they real or prop guns? Do actors use live rounds, dummy rounds, or blanks?
I'm not an actor. So I don't have first-hand knowledge of industry standards on the use of firearms on movie sets. As someone involved in instruction and daily usage of firearms, I thought it was worth researching a bit into the practice.
Dummy Guns and Blanks:
There is a presumption by many that the guns used in movies are harmless replicas.
Some directors choose to use dummy guns that can not accept or fire any projectile in their films. Clearly, this isn't always the case. Instead, as in Alec Baldwin's case on the Rust set, directors use actual firearms in their films.
Of course, actors should not shoot cartridges with projectiles at each other, even when using real guns. Instead, an entire profession exists for armors that modify real guns to work on movie sets safely.
These modifications allow the gun to operate with the reduced pressure produced in cartridges that do not fire a projectile, typically called a “blank.” While blanks are safer than standard cartridges, they still can cause death or serious bodily injury.
Blanks are not Dummy Rounds:
Firing a real gun produces a muzzle flash. This flash of burning gas and powder comes out the end of the barrel. Modified firearms used on movie sets have muzzle flash to be as realistic as possible. A complicated science of barrel restriction and other modifications, paired with the proper pressure blank, produces a real muzzle flash and a gun that cycles like firing genuine cartridges.
As mentioned above, this does not come without risk.
The pressure of expelled combustion gasses produced by a blank can injure and even kill depending on the person's proximity to the muzzle. For example, in 1984, while on set, actor Jon-Erik Hexum loaded a revolver with a blank and put the gun to his temple. Hexum pulled the trigger, apparently thinking he would not be injured. Instead, the pressure fractured his skull, and he died in the hospital.
Another potential risk is that substances like bits of the brass casing, wadding material, or anything left inside the barrel act like a bullet when firing the blank.
Actor Brandon Lee's death while filming The Crow is an example of the pressure of a blank propelling an object at fatal speeds. According to reports, the crew used dummy rounds in one of the guns.
-Dummy rounds are entirely inert and do not contain a power charge or primer. We use dummy rounds in dry fire practice and various other teaching applications.-
In the case of Brandon Lee, part of the dummy round remained in the gun. The object that remained in the gun, became a lethal projectile when they used a blank round in the gun later in the day.
Safety is Paramount:
Be it on a movie set or a range, safe gun handling is necessary. Any gun owner who has not spent time learning the proper rules of gun safety puts themselves and those around them at serious risk.
For example, according to court documents, Hannah Gutierrez, the armorer assigned control of all firearms on set, placed a handgun on a cart. Dave Halls, an assistant director, took the gun from the cart and handed it to Baldwin.
Apparently, Halls indicated it was safe to use. Believing it was safe, Baldwin pulled the trigger while pointing the muzzle at Hutchins and another crewmember named Souza. It turns out the gun had a live, standard cartridge loaded inside.
How many sets of hands did the gun pass through before Baldwin pulled the trigger? At each level, people failed to follow firearm safety rule #1:
Know the condition of your firearm and always treat it as a potentially dangerous tool.
Knowing the condition of the gun means personally determining if the gun is loaded or not. We never take anyone else's statement that the gun is loaded or unloaded without confirming the condition ourselves. Those who routinely handle firearms understand this.
Not surprisingly, those who dislike guns rarely receive safety training. As a result, they are the people who are most unsafe when they handle guns.
No one will confuse Alec Baldwin with anyone who is pro-gun. But, you don't have to be a gun owner to recognize the importance of being safe with a firearm. Anyone who handles a firearm has the INDIVIDUAL responsibility of taking basic safety precautions.
I implore anyone who handles firearms or has the potential to handle a gun because of their profession or because their family member owns one, obtain firearm safety training. We offer a FREE online safety course that explains the safety rules and best practices for gun owners.
A Practical Takeaway:
At this moment, we don't know all the facts about the incident involving Baldwin, Hutchins, and Souza. What we do know is that:
- Gutierrez, the armorer in charge of ensuring the firearms used, was safe, failed
- Hall, the assistant director, failed to check the condition of the gun properly
- Baldwin, the director/actor, failed to identify the gun's condition or keep it pointed in a safe direction
In tragedies like this, we often find procedural breakdowns and abdication of individual responsibilities. I assume this case will be no different, and investigations will find multiple failure points as associated factors in the avoidable outcome.
Something disturbing that caught my attention is that it seems as though there was nobody on set that possessed any emergency trauma training. It would seem that directors would have trained personnel and appropriate trauma gear standing by, especially if actors are using firearms.
It's easy to point this out concerning the film set, but what about when you go to the range or inside your home?
I am astounded by the number of gun owners who do not possess appropriate trauma gear or the ability to use it.
If you suffered a gunshot wound on the range, do you have the appropriate gear to address the injury? Are you relying on a first aid kit situated somewhere on the grounds? Not only may that gear be too far away to be helpful, but the equipment in the kit may also be missing the appropriate gear, or it may be unserviceable.
What about a trauma kit in your home? You carry your everyday carry (EDC) gun and probably handle it every day. What if you unintentionally injure yourself or another family member? Wouldn't you want to have the correct gear and training to address the issue until professional medical personal arrive?
Trauma Gear vs. First Aid Kit:
When I talk about you having the appropriate gear, I don't mean a first aid kit with bandaids and anti-bacterial ointment. Instead, I refer to a trauma kit with chest seals, hemostatic gauze, and a tourniquet, to name a few. These devices are appropriate for treating gunshot wounds and other injuries.
You should ALWAYS have a trauma kit on you when you're on the range, no exceptions. Similarly, if you have a firearm in the house, you should have a trauma kit with the appropriate gear to treat a gunshot wound.
Our sister company, Mountain Man Medical, provides trauma kits for various applications, from an individual first aid kit (IFAK) you carry on your ankle to a trauma kit for applications where treating several casualties at once is possible.
Gear is great, but knowledge of how to use the equipment is equally important. That is why we also have a comprehensive Emergency Trauma Response course available. Don't put off proper firearm and trauma response training for you or your loved ones.