Prop Guns and Blanks

 

Words have meaning. Any firearm capable of pushing a projectile out of barrel is not a prop, even though it might be used as a prop. Blanks are capable of causing physical injury, serious physical injury, and death.

The investigation into the accidental shooting involving Alec Baldwin, the death of Director of Photography Halnya Hutchins, and the wounding of Director Joel Souza is ongoing. I’m not going to comment on what the result of that investigation will be. Two statements that have been made have caught my attention.

There were at least two accidental gun discharges on the set of an Alec Baldwin movie being filmed in New Mexico days before he fatally shot the cinematographer, according to three former members of the film’s crew. – from the New York Times

Guns do not discharge themselves. Someone has to pull the trigger. Guns used as a prop should not have a modified trigger, or a hair-trigger. If the discharges were due to mishandling the weapon that calls for better training of the actor. If the actor is uncooperative he/she should not be allowed to handle a firearm.

If the armorer determines there is a mechanical problem with the firearm then it’s time to find a gunsmith.

According to the affidavit by the detective in the Santa Fe County sheriff’s office, the gun used in the shooting was set up by Hannah Gutierrez, the production’s armorer, and handed to Mr. Baldwin by Dave Halls, the assistant director. Neither Ms. Gutierrez nor Mr. Halls responded to requests for comment. – from the New York Times

According to the current story Mr. Baldwin was told the gun was cold. A firearm that can fire blanks is never cold. It’s either empty, or loaded.

There should be a chain of custody protocol on a movie, or television set. The armorer should hand the firearm to the actor. As a secondary check the armorer should check the weapon in the presence of the actor. The actor should not receive the firearm from anyone else on the crew.

All firearms that can fire a projectile should be considered hot. I treat my own firearms, and a firearm that belongs to anyone else  as hot before I clean them, handle them, or if a friend would like to handle one. I follow that protocol at a gun store.

Actors in particular are at serious risk of injury from blank cartridges used on movie sets. Several actors have been killed in such mishaps:

Brandon Lee was killed while filming a scene for the 1994 film The Crow when a .44-caliber S&W Model 629 revolver used as a prop that contained a squib load — a bullet accidentally stuck in the gun barrel — was fired with a blank cartridge, which propelled the lodged bullet down the barrel. As reported in the investigation and court records, the dummy round used during an earlier shoot was handloaded by someone other than a firearms expert, who removed the propellant powder but unknowingly left a live primer in place, resulting in a bullet being separated from the casing without enough energy behind it to exit the barrel. The gun was not properly checked for the retained bullet prior to the incident, and the squib load was then blown out of the barrel by the blast energy of the blank, fatally injuring Lee.

Jon-Erik Hexum was killed on the set of the TV series Cover Up, when he placed a blank-loaded .44 Magnum revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger as a joke — the powerful shockwave from the blank cartridge caused a depression fracture to the skull, sending bone fragments deep into his brain and causing severe intracranial hemorrhage. He died a few days after the accident.

Johann Ofner, a professional stunt double, was killed in 2017 while filming a scene for Bliss n Eso music video “Dopamine” in the Brooklyn Standard bar in Brisbane.

A 17-year old was playing with a gun used in a St. George, Utah high school theatre program to be used in a production of Oklahoma!, and accidentally killed himself, thinking that “blank” cartridges were harmless. – from Wikipedia

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  1. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Things make even less sense in that the movie is a period piece with one would assume weapons typed for that period making multiple fire of a weapon a bit harder.   

    • #1
  2. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Sounds like lots of Darwin awards should have been issued.

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Sounds like lots of Darwin awards should have been issued.

    It’s not just actors. Gun safety requires the undivided attention of the user. 

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Doug Watt:

    According to the current story Mr. Baldwin was told the gun was cold. A firearm that can fire blanks is never cold. It’s either empty, or loaded.

    There should be a chain of custody protocol on a movie, or television set. The armorer should hand the firearm to the actor. As a secondary check the armorer should check the weapon in the presence of the actor. The actor should not receive the firearm from anyone else on the crew.

    If I were the armorer, the actor would be trained because I trained him.

    • This is the weapon (not the prop).
    • Here is how you are going to check to see if the weapon is loaded. You will do this in my presence every time I hand you a weapon.
    • These are the approved loads for the weapon. They are all marked like this. If you find a load that looks different, or that doesn’t have the mark, you hand it back.
    • You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.
    • You keep your finger off of the trigger unless it is time to fire it.

    I want to know who had a live round on-set.

    • #4
  5. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    As the saying goes, “Nearly all accidental shootings are with guns that weren’t loaded.”

    Speaking of blanks: When I was in Army basic training during a night exercise using blank cartridges in M-1 rifles, one of the trainees shot a fellow trainee at about ten feet with a blank, and injured him seriously when the wadding lodged in his chest.

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Sounds like lots of Darwin awards should have been issued.

    It’s not just actors. Gun safety requires the undivided attention of the user.

    I guarantee you that when I have a gun in my hand, it has my undivided attention.

    • #6
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Percival (View Comment):

    Doug Watt:

    According to the current story Mr. Baldwin was told the gun was cold. A firearm that can fire blanks is never cold. It’s either empty, or loaded.

    There should be a chain of custody protocol on a movie, or television set. The armorer should hand the firearm to the actor. As a secondary check the armorer should check the weapon in the presence of the actor. The actor should not receive the firearm from anyone else on the crew.

    If I were the armorer, the actor would be trained because I trained him.

    • This is the weapon (not the prop).
    • Here is how you are going to check to see if the weapon is loaded. You will do this in my presence every time I hand you a weapon.
    • These are the approved loads for the weapon. They are all marked like this. If you find a load that looks different, or that doesn’t have the mark, you hand it back.
    • You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.
    • You keep your finger off of the trigger unless it is time to fire it.

    I want to know who had a live round on-set.

    Weapons used in movies is not unusual.  Procedures and protocol should be industry standards and beaten into everybody. 

    • #7
  8. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    • #8
  9. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    Why use any weapons at all?  We are talking about an industry that makes realistic looking space ships and monsters.  Surely making a realistic weapon that does not actually fire a projectile would not be out of their art.  

    • #9
  10. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Bean bag shotguns that fire a less than lethal round are available to law enforcement agencies. The beanbag shotgun should not be able to chamber a 12 gauge round. It’s an added expense, but it will be a disaster waiting to happen if a lethal 12 gauge round is chambered by mistake.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    Why use any weapons at all? We are talking about an industry that makes realistic looking space ships and monsters. Surely making a realistic weapon that does not actually fire a projectile would not be out of their art.

    I expect real guns are less expensive than CGI.

    • #11
  12. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Bean bag shotguns that fire a less than lethal round are available to law enforcement agencies. The beanbag shotgun should not be able to chamber a 12 gauge round. It’s an added expense, but it will be a disaster waiting to happen if a lethal 12 gauge round is chambered by mistake.

    The beanbag rounds are still pretty dangerous at close range, where a lot of movies and TV shows have it.

    • #12
  13. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    Things make even less sense in that the movie is a period piece with one would assume weapons typed for that period making multiple fire of a weapon a bit harder.

    Although one person was killed and another persons was injured it was likely from a single round. Through and through plus a second person being struck.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    The angles at which the movies are shot, plus the blocking used for each scene, make “aiming to miss” without appearing to be aiming to miss, not terribly difficult. About the only time that a weapon should come close to being dangerous is if the actor is going to be filmed shooting directly at the camera’s position.

    • #14
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Bean bag shotguns that fire a less than lethal round are available to law enforcement agencies. The beanbag shotgun should not be able to chamber a 12 gauge round. It’s an added expense, but it will be a disaster waiting to happen if a lethal 12 gauge round is chambered by mistake.

    The beanbag rounds are still pretty dangerous at close range, where a lot of movies and TV shows have it.

    I think Doug is referring on the types of shotguns the police use. Blank shotgun rounds (no pellets and a light wad) can be relatively safe.

    • #15
  16. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Bean bag shotguns that fire a less than lethal round are available to law enforcement agencies. The beanbag shotgun should not be able to chamber a 12 gauge round. It’s an added expense, but it will be a disaster waiting to happen if a lethal 12 gauge round is chambered by mistake.

    The beanbag rounds are still pretty dangerous at close range, where a lot of movies and TV shows have it.

    They can be, you should aim low, not at the head or neck. The lethal 12 gauge shotgun uses double-aught buck shot. Nine 32 caliber pellets that can penetrate a car door. We carried the Remington 870 with an 18 and a half-inch barrel.

    I only had it out of the car two times. The first time was on a felony stop involving two armed robbers on a narrow residential street. My backdrop involved residents watching the show across the street from me. The shotgun round would penetrate the car door, but the Glock if I threw a round would penetrate the spectator’s homes.

    We recovered the guns, and the cash taken in the robbery without having to fire a shot.

    The second time was on business burglary that involved 5 burglars. We were short staffed and I was covering the back door by myself. We were able to make the arrest without having to shoot.

    • #16
  17. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Bean bag shotguns that fire a less than lethal round are available to law enforcement agencies. The beanbag shotgun should not be able to chamber a 12 gauge round. It’s an added expense, but it will be a disaster waiting to happen if a lethal 12 gauge round is chambered by mistake.

    The beanbag rounds are still pretty dangerous at close range, where a lot of movies and TV shows have it.

    I think Doug is referring on the types of shotguns the police use. Blank shotgun rounds (no pellets and a light wad) can be relatively safe.

    Yes, but a blank shotgun round is not a “beanbag” as he referred to.  And shotguns used in TV shows/movies likely already use blanks.

    • #17
  18. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    The angles at which the movies are shot, plus the blocking used for each scene, make “aiming to miss” without appearing to be aiming to miss, not terribly difficult. About the only time that a weapon should come close to being dangerous is if the actor is going to be filmed shooting directly at the camera’s position.

    I’d like to see how this scene gets re-done so that the gun is never really aimed at someone, but I think it would be very boring.

     

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    You do not point the weapon at anyone, ever.

    That probably means they can’t make the movie.

    The angles at which the movies are shot, plus the blocking used for each scene, make “aiming to miss” without appearing to be aiming to miss, not terribly difficult. About the only time that a weapon should come close to being dangerous is if the actor is going to be filmed shooting directly at the camera’s position.

    I’d like to see how this scene gets re-done so that the gun is never really aimed at someone, but I think it would be very boring.

     

    Think about what you actually saw. Bruce Willis pushes off on Dennis Franz. Franz backs off a few steps. Willis fires a submachine gun. Was Franz standing there then? Why? The film editor stitches all that stuff together into a cohesive scene, but the film was done separately. For all we know, Franz was back in his trailer watching the Cubs game and cracking open a cold one when Willis was firing the gun.

    • #19
  20. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    I’m just overwhelmed by the idea that anyone would take someone’s word that a firearm is unloaded.  A revolver can be checked simply by obliquely looking at the front of the cylinder, and it’s not much more difficult to press check a semi automatic firearm. If the industry standard is for performers to have no agency whatsoever in handling firearms, it desperately needs to change.  

    Mrs Tex and I have been married for 38 years.  She is a supremely talented shooter.  If I unload a handgun in front of her and hand it to her, she will check it before doing anything else.  Even if I hand it to her with the slide locked back and no magazine, she will unlock the slide and check it again.  That is the sort of standard to which the industry should aspire. 

    • #20
  21. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I’m just overwhelmed by the idea that anyone would take someone’s word that a firearm is unloaded. A revolver can be checked simply by obliquely looking at the front of the cylinder, and it’s not much more difficult to press check a semi automatic firearm. If the industry standard is for performers to have no agency whatsoever in handling firearms, it desperately needs to change.

    Mrs Tex and I have been married for 38 years. She is a supremely talented shooter. If I unload a handgun in front of her and hand it to her, she will check it before doing anything else. Even if I hand it to her with the slide locked back and no magazine, she will unlock the slide and check it again. That is the sort of standard to which the industry should aspire.

    Yes, exactly this.

    • #21
  22. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I’m just overwhelmed by the idea that anyone would take someone’s word that a firearm is unloaded. A revolver can be checked simply by obliquely looking at the front of the cylinder, and it’s not much more difficult to press check a semi automatic firearm. If the industry standard is for performers to have no agency whatsoever in handling firearms, it desperately needs to change.

    Mrs Tex and I have been married for 38 years. She is a supremely talented shooter. If I unload a handgun in front of her and hand it to her, she will check it before doing anything else. Even if I hand it to her with the slide locked back and no magazine, she will unlock the slide and check it again. That is the sort of standard to which the industry should aspire.

    If I’m “hearing” you right, that would not have prevented the death of Brandon Lee.  For example.

    • #22
  23. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    I’m just overwhelmed by the idea that anyone would take someone’s word that a firearm is unloaded. A revolver can be checked simply by obliquely looking at the front of the cylinder, and it’s not much more difficult to press check a semi automatic firearm. If the industry standard is for performers to have no agency whatsoever in handling firearms, it desperately needs to change.

    Mrs Tex and I have been married for 38 years. She is a supremely talented shooter. If I unload a handgun in front of her and hand it to her, she will check it before doing anything else. Even if I hand it to her with the slide locked back and no magazine, she will unlock the slide and check it again. That is the sort of standard to which the industry should aspire.

    Actors live out fantasies in a fantasy world.  Guns in their world are not guns, they’re props, they’re not really real.  I may be wrong, but how else could it have reasonably happened, other than that Baldwin was playing around, with a “play” gun, and pointed the gun at his cinematographer, and pulled the trigger of the gun.

    What are the odds of idly holding the gun, talking about something else, and waving your hand in gesturing, and by happenstance idly pulling the trigger, and shooting a person to death?  That in itself would be extremely ironic as (iirc) happened in Pulp Fiction.  And it was a big deal in the movie plot just for the reason that it never really happens.

    • #23
  24. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    kedavis (View Comment):
    If I’m “hearing” you right, that would not have prevented the death of Brandon Lee.  For example.

    If a squib has left a bullet in the barrel, I would already know.  An armorer handed someone a firearm that had suffered a malfunction while firing a live round (which is how a squib happens) and didn’t know.  That’s criminally negligent.  He could have found it by simply dropping a pencil in the barrel, which seems like a pretty reasonable thing to do if you are handing someone a firearm capable of firing live rounds without expecting them to check it first.  I’ve had squibs occur and always knew immediately. 

    • #24
  25. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Flicker (View Comment):
    Actors live out fantasies in a fantasy world.  Guns in their world are not guns, they’re props, they’re not really real.  I may be wrong, but how else could it have reasonably happened, other than that Baldwin was playing around, with a “play” gun, and pointed the gun at his cinematographer, and pulled the trigger of the gun.

    Completely believable, which is why the industry needs change.

    • #25
  26. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    If I’m “hearing” you right, that would not have prevented the death of Brandon Lee. For example.

    If a squib has left a bullet in the barrel, I would already know. An armorer handed someone a firearm that had suffered a malfunction while firing a live round (which is how a squib happens) and didn’t know. That’s criminally negligent. He could have found it by simply dropping a pencil in the barrel, which seems like a pretty reasonable thing to do if you are handing someone a firearm capable of firing live rounds without expecting them to check it first. I’ve had squibs occur and always knew immediately.

    Fine, but what you previously described – repeatedly checking the chamber, basically – would not have revealed that problem.

    • #26
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Doug Watt: All firearms that can fire a projectile should be considered hot. I treat my own firearms, and a firearm that belongs to anyone else  as hot before I clean them, handle them, or if a friend would like to handle one. I follow that protocol at a gun store.

    Good advice. Too bad actors apparently are not given it frequently enough.

    • #27
  28. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Fine, but what you previously described – repeatedly checking the chamber, basically – would not have revealed that problem.

    While you may not agree, I see this as argumentum ad absurdum.  Here is something from an article published today: “In an earlier special-effects scene, a .44-caliber bullet was fired from the same gun. That bullet broke apart, leaving a piece lodged in the barrel. No one properly checked or cleaned the gun before placing it in storage, and it was pulled out for Lee’s scene because it contained dummy rounds.”

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/article255199256.html

    A task as simple as cleaning the firearm would have found that malfunction.  I don’t hand her uncleaned firearms either. 

    • #28
  29. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Percival (View Comment):
    Think about what you actually saw. Bruce Willis pushes off on Dennis Franz. Franz backs off a few steps. Willis fires a submachine gun. Was Franz standing there then? Why? The film editor stitches all that stuff together into a cohesive scene, but the film was done separately. For all we know, Franz was back in his trailer watching the Cubs game and cracking open a cold one when Willis was firing the gun.

    Also note that the weapon is not pointed at the camera:

    Same with this famous scene:

     

    • #29
  30. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Fine, but what you previously described – repeatedly checking the chamber, basically – would not have revealed that problem.

    While you may not agree, I see this as argumentum ad absurdum. Here is something from an article published today: “In an earlier special-effects scene, a .44-caliber bullet was fired from the same gun. That bullet broke apart, leaving a piece lodged in the barrel. No one properly checked or cleaned the gun before placing it in storage, and it was pulled out for Lee’s scene because it contained dummy rounds.”

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/article255199256.html

    A task as simple as cleaning the firearm would have found that malfunction. I don’t hand her uncleaned firearms either.

    That article is in extreme error.

    The OP is generally correct re Lee.

    • #30