There are strict rules around the use of guns on set (Picture: AP/Getty)
Amid the tragic news a prop gun fired by Alec Baldwin killed a woman on the set of his new movie, conversation has emerged around the use of such items on film sets.
Baldwin was filming the 19th century western Rust in New Mexico when the fatal incident took place on Thursday. A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.
The use of prop guns on set is strictly controlled, with a prop master or a licensed armourer responsible for handling all weapons, including loading blanks. Productions also often requires shields, such as perspex, to be used during filming, although not during rehearsals.
Live ammunition is strictly prohibited on set.
Brandon Lee died when he was 28 years old after a similar incident on the set of The Crow in 1993.
Alec, seen here in costume with fake blood, uploaded this shot from the film’s set earlier this week (Picture: Alec Baldwin/Instagram)
Hutchins was Director of Photography on the Santa Fe set (Picture: Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)
The actor had been filming a scene where his character was shot when he was struck in the abdomen by an improperly made dummy round.
Prior to the scene, the gun was loaded with the cartridges with the powder charges removed, but the primers had not been, and after one of the rounds was fired, a bullet was pushed into the gun barrel and had become stuck.
When the gun, which was loaded with blank rounds for the actual scene, was fired by actor Michael Massee during filming, a blank round was fired and dislodged the bullet with almost the same force as if the round was live.
In a piece with The Conversation in the wake of this week’s incident, writer and producer Christopher Gest and showrunner Sarah Mayberry noted ‘on set there is always an armourer, a safety officer, and a stunt coordinator: at least three people who always have an eye on the guns on set’.
Jensen Eckles, who stars alongside Baldwin in Rust, also recently explained the training he had with firearms while filming the western.
He said at the SNP Denver 2021 convention in September: ‘I’ve got a 6am call tomorrow to have a big shoot-out,’ before pretending to fire a gun.
The actor continued: ‘They had me pick my gun. They were like, “Alright, what gun would you like?” I was like, “I don’t know”, and the armourer was like, “Do you have gun experience?” I was like, “A little”, she was like, “This is how you load it. This is how you load it, check it’s safe. Do you want it hip drawn or cross drawn?” I was like “cross drawn, that sounds fun”.
‘So she’s like, I’ll just put some blanks in there and just fire a couple of rounds towards the hill… I walk out and she’s like, “Just make sure you pull the hammer all the way back and aim at your target”, I was like alright I got it.’
According to a SAG-AFTRA safety bulletin, the prop master will be the individual acting in the interest of the producer for obtaining, maintaining and handling all firearms for the production and works in conjunction with the production’s designated safety representative to assure that standards are adhered to.
Before any use of a firearm in a rehearsal, on-camera sequence or off-camera use, all persons involved must be thoroughly briefed at an on-site safety meeting where the firearms will be used, which includes an ‘on-site walk through’ or ‘dry-run’. Here an understanding of the intended action, possible deviations, plans to abort, emergency procedures, and chain of command should be made clear.
The guidelines add no one shall be issued a firearm until they are trained in safe handling, safe use, the safety lock, and proper firing procedures.
Further rules stipulate anyone using a firearm on set must refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone, including themselves, and if it is absolutely necessary to do so on camera, to consult the prop master, the weapons handler or other safety representative.
Actors must also never place their finger on the trigger until they’re ready to shoot and not engage in ‘horseplay’ with any firearms.
The prop master should also inspect the firearm and barrel before and after every firing sequence, with prop guns never to be laid down or left unattended. When not being actively filmed or in rehearsals, they should be safely secured.
Baldwin seen alongside cast and crew of Rust on set (Picture: @Frances_Fisher)
When it comes to loading, guidelines stipulate that only a qualified person shall perform hand loading or altering factory loaded blank ammunition to work on firearms, while PPE such as protective shields, eye, and hearing protection shall be used by all personnel in close proximity and/or directly in the line of fire.
It adds all personnel should remain a set safe distance from the weapon firing area, which is determined by the prop master, in order to ensure personal safety from blank debris and hot ejected blank casings.
In the UK, Met Police guidance states where it is a live firing weapon ‘you will require a license holder for that weapon to be present, or a Registered Firearms Dealer (RFD) or a servant of the RFD’.
Where it is a blank firing weapon it is still advisable to have the above present.
What is a blank?
A blank is a firearm cartridge that generates a muzzle flash and an explosive sound like any normal gunshot, and the firearm experiences a recoil capable of cycling its action, but without shooting a projectile.
They’re often used on set for shooting simulations that still demand light and sound effects.
Blanks are often made of wads of paper, plastic, felt or cotton, however they are propelled at high velocity and are far from harmless.