Alec Baldwin: How can a prop gun kill and who was to blame?

Aerial pictures show law enforcement arriving on the scene after the shooting. Credit: AP/KOAT

By Digital Multimedia Producer Wedaeli Chibelushi

Questions abound after Alec Baldwin fired a prop firearm on a film set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the process.

It's now been revealed the Hollywood actor was unknowingly handed a loaded weapon by an assistant director who indicated it was safe to use.

A spokesperson for the actor said there was an accident on the set involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks, leaving many to wonder "how can a gun without bullets kill someone?" and "shouldn't film set safety precautions prevent such tragedies?".

One expert told ITV News the ongoing police investigation could take years, but that doesn't mean that some questions about the shooting can't be answered now.

How common are fatal film set shootings?

According to Ben Simmons from Bare Arms, a company that advises filmmakers on using firearms on set, such incidents are "extremely rare".

One of the more famous tragedies is that of actor Brandon Lee, the son of martial artist Bruce Lee's son. The 28-year-old was killed in 1993 after he was shot while filming The Crow.

The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but a post mortem examination found a .44-calibre bullet lodged near his spine.

Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee's son, died aged 28 after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming for the movie “The Crow.”

In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun blank. He had been pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum on the set of the television series Cover Up.

Mr Simmons also referenced stuntman Australian Johann Ofner, who died in 2017 after a prop gun loaded with blanks was fired during a music video.

How can a gun loaded with blanks kill someone?

Mr Simmons explains that a blank cartridge is similar to a live round, the only difference is a blank doesn’t have a bullet or projectile in it.

He added: "In the case of filming, they produce a superpower blank that has even more power than a loaded gun".

There's little potential for things to go wrong with a blank, he said, but "it’s still got that flash, that bang, that noise and that power, so if anyone gets in the way of it, they could be hurt".

Sam Rubin, a US-based entertainment reporter for ITV's This Morning, said things could also go wrong "if there is something in the barrel that comes in contact with the releasing gas, or the releasing pressure.

"It’s a very remote possibility, but it could happen."

Halyna Hutchins Credit: @halynahutchins/Instagram

What safety precautions should be in place to stop casualties happening on set?

Mr Rubin said sets usually have very strict safety protocols - "armourists" and "prop managers" are hired to ensure the safety of prop firearms.

Injuries will normally only happen if two or three safety precautions fail simultaneously, i.e. "a perfect storm", Mr Simmon said.

He added that actors should never normally point a gun at someone.

“Normally when filming you would angle the camera so you’re pointing to either side of somebody,” he said.

Who was to blame?

Santa Fe County Sheriff's officials have said an investigation has begun but no one has been charged in relation to Ms Hutchins' death.

It was a "horrible mistake", Mr Rubin believes, but "finger pointing very likely will involve the crew".

"I think they’ll look at the chain of command, into who was handling disarmament... who was handling the ammunition put into the armourment," he continued.

Mr Simmons predicts the investigation could take years.

"The only thinking I’ve got to base this on is what has happened previously. The incident in Australia that happened in 2017 - the conclusion has only just come out now. I wouldn’t expect anything particularly quickly," he said.

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