The Alec Baldwin Discharged Prop Firearm Incident Explained

A fatal accident on the set of the Western "Rust" shocked the world on October 21, as the movie's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, was fatally shot on location at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, NM (per Deadline). The movie's director, Joel Souza, also received injuries. Hutchins died at the University of New Mexico Hospital, while actress Frances Fisher has confirmed on Twitter that Souza is now out of CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

The news story is still developing and many of the details surrounding the accident are still unknown, but Hutchins and Souza received their injuries after the movie's star and producer, Alec Baldwin, "discharged" a prop firearm, which caused the incident in a yet-unconfirmed way. "Mr. Baldwin was questioned by investigators and released," a representative of Santa Fe Sheriff's Department has stated. "No arrests or charges have been filed."

So what, exactly, has happened? Here's the Alec Baldwin discharged prop firearm incident explained.

How can a blank round be fatal?

Since the investigation is still ongoing and many details of the incident are still unknown, it's too early to determine with certainty what went wrong at Bonanza Creek Ranch. However, Alec Baldwin's spokesman has confirmed that the weapon involved was a prop gun loaded with blank rounds (via the BBC). 

It's easy to assume that a blank round is completely safe, but as BBC News notes, that couldn't be further from the truth. Blanks are essentially regular rounds with the projectile part at the tip removed and replaced with a comparatively harmless material, like cotton. However, the rest of the round still remains, so when the gun is fired, the blank round still gives the same sonic and visual effect as a live one — and even without a bullet flying out, this means that the cartridge still packs the kind of force that can send bullets flying. If proper safety measurements aren't paid attention to, this means a blank round could very well be fatal.

Blank rounds have killed people before

Accidents with prop guns have killed people before. On March 31, 1993, Bruce Lee's son Brandon Lee died while filming "The Crow," when he was shot in the abdomen with a prop gun that had a dummy bullet stuck in front of the blank (per BBC News). On October 12, 1984, "Cover Up" star Jon-Erik Hexum's intended joke went terribly wrong when he shot himself in the temple with a prop gun, not realizing that the blank round was fatal at such a short distance (via Entertainment Weekly).

Because of the potential danger they pose, prop guns should always be treated like real ones. "When I'm doing a training session with a performer, my main guideline, the heartbeat of the conversation, is to make sure that they are treating any weapon — whether it's a bladed weapon or a firearm — as if it could potentially kill somebody. And those are usually the words I use," prop department supervisor Kevin Williams of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television told NPR. "It's a serious situation and everyone's got to be on their game."

It's still unclear what circumstances led to these tragic events on the "Rust" production, so it's too early to say what the exact situation was and whether all requisite preparations and precautions were followed. For now, the production of "Rust" has stopped, as everyone involved is dealing with the tragedy.

How can this tragedy be avoided moving forward?

One life lost needlessly from a firearm is one too many. Halyna Hutchins's life was cut tragically short from the incident, and as more information comes out regarding the incident, some are already looking to take steps to ensure another prop gun misfire never happens on a film set ever again.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a petition started with the goal of banning prop firearms from movie shoots. The mission statement for the petition reads as follows: "We need to make sure this never happens again. There is no excuse for something like this to happen in the 21st century. Real guns are no longer needed on film production sets." 

Others hope this tragedy serves as a teachable lesson to other film productions planning on using prop guns with blanks. Craig Zobel, a director known for his work on "Mare of Easttown" and "The Leftovers," took to Twitter to exclaim, "There's no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore. Should just be fully outlawed. There's computers now. The gunshots on Mare of Easttown are all digital. You can probably tell, but who cares? It's an unnecessary risk."

As all involved deal with the fallout, here's hoping another tragedy like this never happens again.