Guns on Movie Sets Are Real: That’s Why They Can Kill People

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Propeller guns retain the ability to be loaded with live ammunition and used conventionally. And contrary to popular opinion, blank cartridges are dangerous

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Thursday night it emerged that actor Alec Baldwin appears to have pulled the trigger on a gun that accidentally killed cinematographer Halnya Hutchins on the set of Rust, an accidental murder western.

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While such shootings are rare, it shows that “prop” guns fired on TV and in movies are much closer to the real thing than most viewers realize. Most of the time, in fact, they’re usually the real thing. Here’s what you need to know about prop guns.

Most guns on TV and in movies started life as a real gun

by James Bond Walther PPK . Dirty Harry’s Smith & Wesson Model 29. Even most flintlock guns featured in Pirates of the Caribbean were 18th century legitimate firearms. If you love period war movies, chances are you’ve seen an actor wielding a gun whose pre-Hollywood existence made him shoot angrily.

There are exceptions if a firearm is never shown being fired. If you were a background extra in Saving Private Ryan, for example, chances are you received a rubber replica . Some productions are also known for using airsoft guns , replica guns designed to fire small plastic BB bullets that, in a pinch, may look like the real thing (which is also why airsoft guns have been found among drug smuggling seizures).

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But if the gun explodes, it’s almost certainly a real gun.

A distraught Alec Baldwin lingers in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, NM, after being questioned about a shoot on the set of the movie
A distraught Alec Baldwin lingers in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in Santa Fe, NM, after being questioned about a shootout on the set of the movie ‘Rust’ on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Thursday 21st of October. , 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

A prop gun can be transformed into a real gun in an instant

Based in Toronto Movie Armament Group (MAG) is Canada’s largest supplier of prop guns to the motion picture industry. They maintain a safe containing thousands of pistols, semi-automatic rifles and even machine guns. If you need a gun on your set, you choose it from a catalog, then MAG sends it into the custody of one of their employees, who is either a retired police officer or a military man. .

MAG’s firearms are all “fully functional live fire”, according to a profile on The Firearms blog. This means that they are all subject to the same restrictions as any other collection of Canadian firearms. In 2019, the company’s chief executive, Charles Taylor, even testified before the Senate that a series of new Liberal gun bans would hamper its ability to supply guns to Canadian productions.

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Any gunsmith in the motion picture industry handles real guns that become propeller guns solely by virtue of being loaded with blank cartridges on set (or, if the scene doesn’t require the gun to be fired, they might have the firing pin removed). But each still retains the ability to be loaded with live ammunition and used conventionally.

This is why in 2009 there was concerns that small gunsmiths supplying the British Columbia film industry were simultaneously funneling real firearms into the underworld.

Even a loaded gun can kill

Even without a bullet, firing a blank cartridge is like setting off a powerful explosive charge inside a confined area. Getting that camera-satisfying bang and flash also requires a surge of explosive force and hot gases that can be deadly in tight spaces.

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“Contrary to public opinion, blank cartridges (are a) dangerous weapon which can cause life-threatening injuries when fired at close range, particularly to the head and chest,” read a statement. . paper 2009 study cases of soldiers who died from blank cartridge wounds during an exercise.

Just four years ago, a man died on the set of an Australian hip-hop video when a blank-loaded pistol was shot in his chest . But one of the most notorious cases of death caused by a blank cartridge occurred in 1984, when American actor Jon-Erik Hexum shot himself in the head with a blank cartridge as a joke. The blast was powerful enough to shatter his skull and embed the pieces in his brain, causing brain death.

Foreign objects can also become lodged in the barrel of a prop gun. Then, when the gun is fired, the object turns into an impromptu bullet.

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This was the cause of the death in 1993 of actor Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) on the set of The Crow.

One scene required a close-up of a gun being loaded. Since the blank cartridges would have looked unrealistic (they’re just brass casings with no bullets in them), the scene instead loaded the gun with dummy cartridges that didn’t contain explosive powder.

A piece of one of these cartridges broke off and lodged in the barrel. So when a blank cartridge was then loaded into the gun, it propelled the piece into Lee like a conventional bullet, mortally wounding him.

If the barrels of propeller guns were covered to prevent projectiles from firing outwards, all it would do was turn the gun into a pipe bomb. In the rare event that a firearm is fired with a plugged muzzle, the result is a cartoon splitting cannon which can be just as deadly as an unwanted projectile.

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How do movie productions stop all these real guns from killing people? Being very, very careful

Film production means using firearms in situations that would never, ever be allowed in any other situation involving firearms.

The rule of thumb on any shooting range, hunting ground or battlefield is to always treat a gun as if it were loaded and never point the barrel at anything you are not ready to destroy. . On a film set, all of these rules go out the window if the script calls for a gun to be shoved into the lead actor’s mouth.

It is therefore a gunsmith’s job to closely monitor all weapons on set, train actors in their use, and diligently disinfect all live ammunition. Before cameras roll on a scene involving the live firing of a firearm, among other checks, a gunsmith will typically check the barrel with a flashlight to ensure it is free of blockages.

Reports from all of Rust initially indicated that the accident was caused by a firearm loaded with a blank cartridge, potentially indicating an accident involving a foreign object in the barrel. However, in a recent memo sent to members, a Hollywood syndicate said the accident was due to the firing of a “live single shot”.

According to the LA Times, the film had been plagued by allegations of unsafe working conditions, including several prop gun misfires .

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