It has been reported by numerous news sources that acclaimed Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin, 63, fatally shot a female and wounded a male in New Mexico on Thursday while filming his new movie Rust. The deceased female victim was identified as the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42. The injured male victim was identified as the film’s director, Joel Souza, 48. Souza was treated and later released from the hospital.
Rust is a western about a 13-year-old boy left to fend for himself and goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather after he’s sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher, according to IMDb.
Shooting Blamed on Misfire of Prop Gun
It remains unclear as to how the tragic events unfolded on set, but it has been reported by some outlets that the weapon Baldwin was using misfired. Yet another news organization stated that Baldwin shot a real projectile out of a prop gun. Those narratives differ greatly.
The events on Thursday were tragic and while I’m not second-guessing what happened on that set, I would like to clear up the differing information that has been reported, seemingly by those unfamiliar with firearms. The only way we can try to prevent a tragedy such as this from happening again in the future is to intelligently discuss what went wrong on this set.
The term “misfire” denotes a specific problem when firing a weapon. It isn’t a broad term that can be used for any generic gun accident. According to NRA Family, “A misfire is a failure of the priming mixture to be initiated after the primer (or rim of a rimfire case) has been struck an adequate blow by the firing pin, or the failure of the initiated primer to ignite the powder. ”
So you see, a misfire does not result in the explosion of the gunpowder in the cartridge that expels the bullet from the barrel, which would have had to happen to kill one person and wound another.
Secondly, any firearm capable of firing a bullet is not a prop. Many of the firearms used on movie sets are actual firearms that are loaded with blank rounds for safety. One common misconception about blanks is that they are inherently safe. One has to remember that the pressure and concussive force of the weapon remains mostly intact even when a blank is used. As an example, I once was in an active shooter training simulation in which 12-gauge shotguns were loaded with blanks. The concussive force of the shotgun was so ferocious that the first time it was fired up into the air it blew a hole in the ceiling right above our heads. Blanks are not intrinsically safe. On the set of a movie set in the Old West, the firearms used would be .45 caliber pistols like the Colt Peacemaker or the Smith & Wesson Schofield. The power charge in these rounds is very powerful and at close range poses a serious danger of injury or even death.
Typical Movie Set Gun Safety
I reached out to SOFREP’s Senior Editor and former Green Beret, Steve Balestrieri, for comment about this incident. While Steve has no inside knowledge of the incident, he shared with me how movie sets are typically made safe prior to filming.
“I worked on several film sets and each has at least one, but depending on the film, several armorers that are responsible for the safe application of firearms on the set,” Steve said.
“The armorers are responsible for the loading of blank ammunition and actually personally hand weapons to the actors and extras (in the case of a war film). They are the guys who must ensure that the weapons are handled in a safe manner, even when shooting blank ammunition.”
He concluded by saying, “Without knowing all the details yet, it is tough to blame the armorer.”
Again, weapons loaded even with confirmed blanks are still dangerous, which is why Balestrieri said armorers must ensure that all weapons are handled in a safe manner. One thing that seems safe to say is that at some point during this incident someone did not treat the weapon with respect.
This theme is an unfortunate one with many Hollywood films. It is common to see soldiers sweep one another during battle scenes and for police officers to inadvertently point their weapons at their buddy or at the bottom of their chin as the actors hold it in a supposedly safe position during a scene. Beyond that lack of tactical prowess that is present in much of Hollywood, the industry also has a bad track record of firearm incidents.
Not an Unfamiliar Occurrence
The shooting on the set of Rust was all too similar to an accident that occurred on another movie set in 1993. On that set, Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) was fatally shot when a bullet that had lodged in the barrel of a weapon was discharged when the blank was fired. The bullet struck him in the stomach.
In 2016, the Associated Press reported that since 1990, upwards of 43 people have died on movie sets in the U.S. and another 150 have been left with serious injuries from various causes including firearms, as in the case of Brandon Lee. Given the relatively small numbers of people in the movie-making industry, these deaths and injuries suggest a real lack of safety culture on the sets of Hollywood movies.
Fight for True Gun Control
Many actors have no qualms fighting for gun control and even gun confiscation from the masses while making billions of dollars showing everyone how “cool” they are in movies ranging from westerns to military sagas to Mission Impossible or James Bond films.
What I don’t think these actors consider, however, is that the loose gun control and lack of respect for weapons by the characters they portray in shows and movies likely lead to more gun accidents in the general public. Children and young teens that watch some of these movies no doubt lose a bit of the realistic aspect of safely handling an actual weapon. During these movies, there is regularly little to no recoil shown, the decibel level of the weapon isn’t accurate, and the reality of death is skewed.
Rather than fight guns at every turn, maybe what Hollywood really needs to do is address the way they exhibit guns and their handling. Maybe that will make a real difference in decreasing gun violence and firearm accidents.
As for Rust, Fox News reported that Alec Baldwin willingly spoke to investigators from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and that no charges have been filed at this point. It is unclear as to whether Baldwin or anyone else involved was asked to submit to a drug screening, which is common following a shooting incident, whether intentional or accidental. The Sheriff’s Office said the case is still actively under investigation.
Our thoughts go out to Hutchins’ family and friends as they deal with this tragedy.
Alec Baldwin, Long Time Gun Control Advocate
Alec Baldwin is a long-time advocate for gun control. In 2018, Baldwin headlined the creation of “The No Rifle Association initiative” (#NoRA) a partnership with Parkland shooting students, gun control advocates, and policymakers to regulate the ownership of firearms and reduce the influence of the NRA.
The letter sent to the NRA announcing the group’s formation was signed by 131 Hollywood celebrities including Baldwin. It targeted the NRA specifically,
“We’re going to shine a bright light on what you and your organization do to America. We’re going to make sure the whole world sees your bloody hands. We’re coming for your money. We’re coming for your puppets. And we’re going to win.”