More than a week after the filming of “Rust” in New Mexico, details continue to come in explaining how actor Alec Baldwin ended up with a loaded gun in his hand.
Police have not yet completed an investigation, but one element has become clear: several people have repeatedly mishandled the firearms that killed director of photography Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.
A small set of simple rules dictates how to handle a firearm safely: Always know if the gun is loaded. The hose should point in a safe direction. Never point a gun at anything you are not prepared to destroy. Get to know your goal and what is beyond it.
These rules exist because people are prone to mistakes, but guns shoot reliably when the operator pulls the trigger. With a wave of his hand, Baldwin broke all four. And the people in charge of handling the guns on the set broke something else that only ensured that the weapons from the props would turn into a dangerous responsibility.
“If that happened, more than one security measure must have failed,” Doug McQuarrie, a former naval seal who helped revive firearms scenes at several movie venues, told HuffPost.
If Baldwin were anyone other than an actor, filming on the set of “Rust” would be an obvious example of negligence. However, he was not alone in mishandling the weapons.
An inexperienced armored man in charge of the weapon, an assistant director who grabbed a gun and shouted “cold,” and crew members which he was supposed to take for a round of target shooting everything played a role in a long chain of growing irresponsibility that led to negligent layoffs in an industry that portrayed guns as routine – usually without incident.
HuffPost spoke with firearms experts, including three with extensive experience working on film sets, and reviewed public documents to understand what went wrong. While the investigation is not yet complete and many details remain unknown, everyone agreed that several overlapping problems caused the fatal shot. Some speculate that Baldwin himself may be to blame for mishandling loaded weapons during training.
“The rules exist,” Bill Davis, a former police officer and armored officer with two decades of experience, told HuffPost. “Follow them, you won’t have a problem. If you don’t follow them, you will. Security protocols are only as good as people respect them. “
Baldwin should not handle a real gun
The confusion surrounding the shooting revolves in part around the difference between a gun and a “props gun”. Support rifles are usually modified to fire only blind lines, often through a clogged barrel. Baldwin did not fire “props” in anything but a euphemistic sense. He pulled the trigger on a .45 caliber revolver and it fired a projectile, almost certainly a bullet. It wasn’t just a prop. It was a gun.
This should not happen for at least two reasons. First, live bullets – bullet-fired bullets – are not normally allowed in movie scenes. But among the 500 rounds seized from the kit, police found counterfeit rounds, ammunition and live ammunition. No one consulted by HuffPost could have imagined a scenario where this would make sense.
“I was completely shocked to hear that the rounds were live,” McQuarrie said. “I haven’t seen that on set yet.”
And in a situation where Baldwin was handling a revolver, the props masters said he shouldn’t use a real gun. The filmmakers were not filming the scene at the time. Instead, Baldwin practiced a movement that would eventually break into the scene, a practice known in the industry as “blocking”.
Blocking exercises usually require neither a “hot” pistol loaded with blind bullets nor an unloaded “cold” pistol, but a “light” pistol – usually made of rubber or plastic and unable to hold bullets or fire bullets.
Police found three different revolvers at the scene of the shooting, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said Wednesday: a fully-functioning .45 revolver, a modified-cylinder pistol that most likely only allows blind-shot shooting, and a plastic pistol.
Live circles should not get into the gun
Even if there were live ammunition on set, you shouldn’t get in the gun. The charges are easily separable because no bullets protrude from the housing.
Film kits do not seem to have universal standards for loading weapons with the blind or proving that they are discharged. But most agree that the armored vehicle has the highest authority over the firearms used in the films, followed by other props masters and technical consultants. This makes the chain of custody simple: it is only touched by an armor or an actor.
“I’ve never seen a crew allow themselves to touch any gun,” McQuarrie said. “Never.”
On the set of “Rust,” however, those in charge of watching the gun that fired the fatal shot left it out in the open. According to news reports, crew members used it to shoot during free hours instead of being secured by an armored vehicle.
And assistant director Dave Halls grabbed the gun and handed it to Baldwin when the work should have belonged to Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.
Baldwin handled the gun incorrectly
The chain of accidents ended with Baldwin himself. Despite a call from the assistant director that the gun was “cold” (meaning unloaded), police statements indicate it had a single live charge in the cylinder.
The props masters HuffPost consulted disagree on whether Baldwin should know. His reliance on the assistant director’s word that the gun was emptied is a fly contrary to the safe handling of firearms, which dictates that the first thing anyone who handles a gun should check to see if it’s loaded, says Mike Cargill , a firearms instructor and owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin.
“It’s definitely negligent,” Cargill told HuffPost. “In the end, if you’re the person holding the firearm, you’re the person who will be responsible.”
But Hollywood doesn’t seem to have a universal standard that would dictate whether players need to understand the status of the weapon they have a hand with. One said players were expected to rely on the armor’s professionalism as planned. Checking the magazine or inspecting the cylinder risks disrupting the armor part and introducing an unwanted element of uncertainty.
“I don’t see a way, a shape, or a form to blame Alec Baldwin,” McQuarrie said. “He’s in another world, a game. And all the other variables are controlled by everyone else. “
But at least in New York, according to props master Lucien Charles, it is standard for armored vehicles to load firearms that contain ammunition or prove the gun was fired in front of at least one other person, usually an assistant director, and often with an actor who will handled a gift gun.
“Obviously, Mr. Baldwin should have done it with an armored car, with an assistant director standing there,” Charles said. “As long as everyone has their eye on it, they can be sure it’s safe. And AD will know this is a cold gun. Unfortunately, someone lost their life because of someone who did not pass the security check. “
And even if the gun was emptied, Baldwin appears to have handled it irresponsibly, some say. No one is allowed to point a gun, even if unloaded, at another person.
“The cardinal rule he broke was to point a gun at a man,” Davis said. “In many films, he handled weapons. He should know better. “
It is unclear whether Baldwin, Hannah-Gutierrez, Halls or anyone else will face criminal charges in the shooting at “Rust”. Prosecutors are leaving “all options on the table,” Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said this week. The 1993 shooting, in which actor Brandon Lee was killed while filming “The Crow,” is the most similar case in an industry where deaths from firearms are rare. does not give rise to a criminal complaint.
The shootings of Lee and Hutchins seem unintentional, helping to establish an understanding of the prosecution.
But the strict rules governing the safety of firearms leave virtually no room for exemption from unintentional firing as an accident. A gun fires when a man pulls a trigger, it makes sense, which makes someone responsible for 100% of the bullets flying out of the barrel.
“It’s guilty negligence,” Davis said. “There’s nothing accidental about that.”