First and foremost, I AM NOT AN ARMORER OR A WEAPONS MASTER. I am an NRA instructor, and 60 year shooter of multiple weapons. I have been an extra (no gun) in exactly ONE movie in my life. So take this post for what it is worth…
I did reach out to some folks that I know in the business and got the following information or references from them.
The stories are still changing hour by hour, minute by minute…
What is ‘known’ at this time is the following. Alec Baldwin discharged a pistol which killed Halyna Hutchins and wounded Joel Souza. So at least two of the four rules were violated. Why/how? The why we may never know, the how is pretty apparent…
The movies/TV/plays, etc. treat weapons differently than most shooters do, in the ‘interest’ of ‘accuracy’ (and I use THAT term loosely)… And actors (with a few notable exceptions), wouldn’t have any idea how to check an weapon to see if it was loaded, much less with what…
These are ‘their’ rules for sets…
GENERAL SAFE USE AND HANDLING OF FIREARMS
1. Refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone, including yourself. If it is absolutely necessary to do so on camera, consult the Property Master (or, in his/her absence, the weapons handler and/or other appropriate personnel determined by the locality or the needs of the production) or other safety representative, such as the First A.D./Stage Manager. Remember that any object at which you point a firearm could be destroyed.
2. NEVER place your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Keep your finger alongside the firearm and off the trigger.
3. KNOW where and what your intended target is.
4. DO NOT engage in horseplay with any firearms.
5. NEVER discharge a firearm when the barrel is clogged. The Property Master (or, in his/her absence, the weapons handler and/or other appropriate personnel determined by the locality or the needs of the production) should inspect the firearm and barrel before and after every firing sequence.
6. UTILIZE all safety devices until the firearm is ready to be used.
7. NEVER lay down a firearm or leave it unattended. Unless actively filming or rehearsing, all firearms should be safely secured.
8. ONLY a qualified person shall perform hand loading or altering factory loaded blank ammunition to work on firearms (either licensed or experienced). Check with local, state and federal regulations to see if a specific license is required.
9. NO PERSON is to be coaxed, coerced, or otherwise forced into handling a firearm.
10. The jamming of firearms or any malfunctions must be reported immediately to the Property Master (or, in his/her absence, the weapons handler and/or other appropriate personnel determined by the locality or the needs of the production). Do not attempt to adjust, modify, repair, or un-jam the firearm. Malfunctioning firearms should be taken out of service until properly repaired by a person qualified to work on firearms.
11. Protective shields, eye, and hearing protection or other appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shall be issued and utilized by all personnel in close proximity and/or directly in the line of fire.
There are also ‘statements’ out there that because they were filming in New Mexico, none of the normal rules apply. Not true. UNION rules apply regardless of which location shooting is taking place. HERE is a link to the safety bulletins recommended by Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee for the Motion Picture and Television Industry. The first two safety bulletins apply to this discussion- 1. Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and use of “Blank Ammunition”. 2. Special Use of Live Ammunition. They are both pdf, so you can download them at your leisure. Of note, there is not, to my knowledge any request for live ammunition on this set.
So going from there, the following observations/links are my look into what is supposed to happen, or not happen…
First of all, there are various ‘definitions’ being thrown around about a ‘prop gun’ and how they are supposed to be safe. There are different types of prop guns used in movies.
‘Rubber guns’- These look like a real gun, but are usually made out of some type of composite or plastic. These are truly non operational, and can be dropped, thrown, or used to hit someone with.
‘Toy guns’- These are usually airsoft type copies of weapons that look and move realistically (e.g. the slide cycles, etc.)
‘Demilled or non-firing guns’- These are actual weapons that have been rendered safe by various means (filled barrel, removal of firing pin, etc.)
‘Functional gun’- This is a working weapon, capable of firing blanks (known as 5 in 1s) or actual rounds.
According to reports, this was a functional gun period correct for the 1860s-70s. That would mean it was some type of single action (hammer must be cocked to fire) pistol.
I want to digress slightly here and talk about 5 in 1s…
These are blanks designed to be used in five different caliber weapons (primarily cowboy/western calibers). Originally developed by Stembridge, according to some old gun folks. More info HERE. There are four ‘loads’ used in blanks as follows-
1/4 charge, normally used for inside scenes
1/2 charge, normally used for close ups, also around skittish animals
3/4 charge, normally used for outdoor scenes with animals
Full charge, normally used for outdoor action scenes
When Stembridge went out of business, a number of companies stepped into the ‘breach’ so to speak. One of those is Mike Tristano and Co.
The next part of the equation is the armorer or weapons master. HERE is a 2019 article from Dave Brown, a long time armorer and weapons master.
Another HERE from SL Huang, one of the female armorers out there.
Armorers or weapons masters are responsible for storing them on set. Guns are not supposed to leave their hands until cameras are rolling; actors hand them back as soon as “cut” or “wrap” is called and the cameras stop. This means someone else, e.g. AD in this case, should not have been handling the weapon or been the one to hand it to Baldwin. In most cases, if not all, armorers and weapons masters also ensure that there are NO live rounds anywhere on the set. This is one of the biggest questions that most of us have…
Per the safety rules from SAG and other organizations, gun training either at a range, or on location is a requirement for safe gun handling by the actors. Most, if not ALL of the various unions have safety requirements and reporting chains embedded in their contracts for any work on sets. Note- Most actors are anti-gun, unless they are using them to make money in a movie, so their knowledge of weapons is questionable at best (See Dance Monkey).
Rule of thumb is 20 feet for any blank cartridge, but a production safety coordinator, working with the armorer, will begin planning long before production begins. The armorer is brought on board early to analyze the script and, working with the director and prop master, decide what weapons are needed, graphing out scenes for safety zones, distances, and other requirements including blocking for actors and observers. In today’s world, remote cameras are used, often with a protective screen, if the gun is required to be pointed directly at it.
Good camera operators and cinematographers can ‘skew’ angles enough to make it look like the actors are firing ‘at’ each other, or appear closer than they actually are to stay within safety rules.
I was pointed to this twitter thread from SL Huang, which is worth the read…
A lot of people are messaging me about yesterday's tragedy that was an on-set firearms death (because I am a film armorer, for those who don't know).
As both a human and a professional, it is extremely upsetting. My thoughts are with Halyna Hutchins' loved ones
— SL Huang 黄士芬 (@sl_huang) October 23, 2021
Most of the backchannel chat revolves around the ‘issues’ on the set with safety, non-union personnel being used, and why/how live ammo was allowed on set in violation of safety rules. It appears there was NO application for live ammo on this shoot.
There are also questions about the NDs that occurred causing some camera operators to walk off the set on Friday. There are apparently a number of other issues around the production, but I’m not going into them. I’m ‘trying’ to stay strictly on the shooting.
Lastly, as usual, the antis are dancing in the blood before the bodies have cooled, wanting to ban ALL guns of any type from sets everywhere. “They can fix it in post with CGI.”
CGI/VFX is not cheap, even if one is just adding ‘smoke’ to the barrel, much less flash from the barrel will cost somewhere between $2000-5000 per minute, examples HERE. Most actors cannot accurately simulate recoil, so anyone with any experience is going to notice it and be thrown out of the action, unless that is added to the CGI/VFX (see cost above).
So, what is my bottom line? There were multiple violations of safety rules, apparently by multiple people. Were they ‘by direction’? I don’t know. The sad part is the confluence of those violations ended with a live round, which should never have been there in the first place, being loaded (or never unloaded if one report about the gun being used for shooting off set is to be believed), no ‘chain of custody’ from the armorer to the actor (why/how the AD got the weapon, who else had handled it in the interim from the armorer or was the armorer even on set), and no safety checks.
One person is dead, another wounded, and now ALL of those people in that failed chain of custody will have to deal with blood on their hands. The unknown (for now), are charges and lawsuits that are sure to come, and whom and how many will be banned from working again, and who/how many will suffer severe PTSD or commit suicide as a result of this.