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Prop Firearm Misfire Leads to Death of Halyna Hutchins

by | Oct 22, 2021 | Blog

A tragedy occurred on the set of the upcoming film “Rust,” in Sante Fe, New Mexico on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021: Halyna Hutchins, director of photography, was killed, and director Joel Souza was injured, when actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm on set. 

We at Block O’Toole & Murphy send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Ms. Hutchins, and wish a quick recovery to Mr. Souza. 

According to an email from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 44 (a union that covers prop masters, among other entertainment industry employees), the prop weapon that Baldwin was using contained a live round. Production of the film was immediately stopped. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office said detectives are still investigating the accident, specifically how and what kind of projectile was discharged from the prop gun. No charges have yet been filed. 

Although they are not meant to harm, prop weapons can still be very dangerous. According to Joseph Fisher, a prop master, “Typical prop load will be about 25 to 50% of the gunpowder in an actual projectile load that would be used in a regular weapon.” Even though there is typically no actual bullet in a prop gun, there are still “projectiles” such as gunpowder and gas that can be dangerous if fired at close range.

According to Daniel Oates, a former police chief, prop guns generally use blank cartridges instead of live ammunition, but they typically all use “powder as a charge agent” to “create the noise and visual of an actual gun shot.” It is still unclear how or why live ammunition was placed into the prop gun that Baldwin used. 

According to a safety bulletin issued by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee for the Motion Picture and Television Industry, live ammunition should never be used or brought onto any studio lot or stage. A subsequent safety bulletin specified that live ammunition should only be used on very rare occasions and in special circumstances when there is absolutely no other way to achieve the desired effect.  

One of the safety bulletins also specified recommendations for firearm safety and use of blank cartridges on set. It states that the prop master should be in charge of “obtaining, maintaining, and handling all firearms for the production.” The prop master will hold a safety meeting for all involved in the production of the scene using the firearm, as well as the cast and crew. This meeting is meant to thoroughly brief everyone involved on the safety procedures in place for use of the firearm. Additionally, no one should use the firearm until they have been trained in the “safe handling, safe use, the safety lock, and proper firing procedures.”

Additionally, Independent Studio Services, a prop rental company, notes that most productions will need a permit to purchase or rent a firearm solely for use as a prop in an entertainment production of any kind, although exact laws depend on the location of the production and the type of equipment being used. 

Although it is unclear exactly what went wrong with Thursday’s accident, it is clear there are laws and extensive guidelines surrounding the use of firearms as props in any kind of television or movie production. If anyone was negligent in following these guidelines, it could have contributed to causing this tragic accident. 

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be legally entitled to compensation for your losses. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our online contact form to speak to a personal injury lawyer today.

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