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How does a prop gun misfire? How did Alec Baldwin shooting turn fatal?

Yasmine Leung October 22, 2021
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, on the set of Rust when his prop gun reportedly misfired, but how does it actually happen?

A tragic accident

The director of photography of upcoming Western film, Rust, has died after Alec Baldwin allegedly ‘discharged’ a prop gun filled with blanks on the New Mexico set.

Director Joel Souza was also injured, but is currently recovering in hospital.

42-year-old Hutchins was transported to University of New Mexico Hospital via helicopter, where she succumbed to her injuries.

Baldwin was seen “in tears”, according to Fox News, and investigators continue to look into the incident.

A Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department official told Deadline: “Mr. Baldwin was questioned by investigators and released. No arrests or charges have been filed.”

Tributes have been flooding in, including the official Twitter account of Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee, run by daughter Shannon – Brandon died from a shooting on the set of The Crow in 1993.

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How does a prop gun misfire?

A prop gun is a non-functional firearm used during theatrical performances. However, the term can also refer to real weapons with the intention of only using them as props.

Real guns are occasionally used for authenticity, particularly for close-up shots where the appearance and weight of it can enhance the scene.

When a gun is filled with blanks, it means it has a blank cartridge. Although there is no bullet, it still contains a casing and gunpowder.

When the trigger is pulled, the gunpowder gets ignited, resulting in a muzzle flash, which is the release of hot high pressure gas when it shoots out the casing. Therefore, anything close to the prop gun is vulnerable.

Brandon Lee’s death

In Lee’s case, he was shot by Michael Massee during the filming of The Crow, where the gun was not correctly checked by crew members.

The prop was a real .44 Magnum revolver, which was loaded with dummy rounds with no gunpowder, but primer was left inside.

Energy from the ignited primer was enough to shoot the bullet in the gun barrel where it got stuck, but no one knew.

During the scene, the dummy cartridges were replaced with blank rounds which contained gunpowder and primer, but no bullet. The firing by Massee caused the lodged bullet to exit as if it was a real shot, hitting Lee in the abdomen.

Authorities found the bullet lodged in his spine, and he died of blood loss and heart failure.

  • MORE: Who was Halyna Hutchins? Age and career of Rust DOP killed on set

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Yasmine is a third-year Anthropology and Media student at Goldsmiths University with a new obsession with League of Legends, despite being really bad. She's always on social media keeping on top of the latest news and trends and is HITC’s expert in Korean pop culture. She also loves music, TV and fashion - her favourite things to write about.