A Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputy briefly talks with a security guard at the entrance to the Bonanza Creek Ranch — where “Rust” had been filmed — in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Oct. 15.
AP Photo/Jae Hong

More than a week after the shooting on the “Rust” film set in New Mexico, details continue to trickle out explaining how actor Alec Baldwin wound up with a loaded gun in his hand.

Although police have not concluded the investigation yet, one thing is clear. Several individuals repeatedly misused the gun that caused Halyna Hutchins’ death and the injuries to Joel Souza’s head.

Here are some simple guidelines to help gun owners safely use firearms. Always keep the barrel pointed in a secure direction. Never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy. You must know your target.

These rules exist as humans are susceptible to errors, however guns always fire when they’re pulled. Baldwin broke each of them with a single swipe of his hand. Baldwin broke three more of the gun handlers on the set, thereby making the weapon a liability.

“You had to have more than one safety measure fail for that to happen,” Doug McQuarrie, a former NAVY Seal who’s helped bring firearm scenes to life on several film sets, told HuffPost.

If Baldwin were anyone other than an actor, the shooting on the set of “Rust” would be an obvious case of negligence. But he wasn’t alone in mishandling the weapon.

The inexperienced armorer in charge of the weapon, the assistant director who grabbed the gun and shouted “cold,” and crew members who reportedly took it for a round of target shooting all played some part in a long chain of compounding irresponsibility that led to a negligent discharge in an industry that portrays gun battles as a matter of routine ― usually without incident.

HuffPost spoke to firearms experts. Three of them have vast experience in working on movie sets. HuffPost reviewed public documents to discover what went wrong. Although the details of the shooting are still unknown and the investigation is ongoing, everyone agreed that there were several problems. Baldwin could also have been responsible for accidentally handling a loaded firearm during rehearsal.

“The rules are there,” Bill Davis, a former police officer and armorer with two decades of experience, told HuffPost. “You follow them, you won’t have a problem. If you don’t follow them, you will. The safety protocols are only as good as the people observing them.”

Baldwin should not have handled a real gun

The confusion around the shooting revolves partly around the distinction between a gun and a “prop gun.” Prop guns are typically modified to fire only blanks, often through a plugged barrel. Baldwin didn’t fire a “prop gun” in anything but a euphemistic sense. Baldwin pulled the trigger with a.45 revolver. It fired a projectile almost certain to be a bullet. It wasn’t just a prop. It was a gun.

That shouldn’t have happened for at least two reasons. First, live rounds ― cartridges that fire a bullet ― aren’t typically allowed on movie sets. Police confiscated 500 rounds from the set and found live ammunition, blanks and fake cartridges among them. HuffPost couldn’t imagine any scenario that would make sense.

“I was absolutely shocked to hear that there were live rounds,” McQuarrie said. “I’ve never seen that on a set.”

Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office on Oct. 21 after he was questioned about the shooting.
Alec Baldwin talks on the phone from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office’s parking lot, Oct. 21, after being interrogated about the shooting.
Source: Associated Press

And in the situation Baldwin was handling the revolver, prop masters said he shouldn’t have used a real gun. The filmmakers weren’t shooting a scene at the time. Instead, Baldwin was rehearsing the movement that would eventually make it into the scene, a practice known in the industry as “blocking.”

Blocking rehearsals typically require neither a “hot” gun loaded with blanks nor an unloaded “cold” gun, but a “dummy” gun ― usually made of rubber or plastic and incapable of holding cartridges or firing bullets.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza stated Wednesday that three types of revolvers were recovered by police from the crime scene. One was a full-functioning.45 revolver; the other is a modified version to the cylinder which makes it possible to fire blanks only. The third revolver is a plastic pistol.

Live Rounds Shouldn’t Have Made It Into The Gun

Even if there were live rounds on the set, they shouldn’t have made it into the gun. Live rounds are difficult to distinguish from blanks because the bullets don’t poke out of the casing.

Film sets don’t appear to have universal standards for loading guns with blanks or demonstrating that they are unloaded. Most agreed, however that the gunsmith holds all authority over firearms in movie sets. He is followed closely by technical advisors. The chain of custody is simple because only an actor can touch it.

“I’ve never seen any crew allowed to touch any gun,” McQuarrie said. “Not ever.”

On the set of “Rust,” however, those charged with monitoring the gun that fired the fatal shot left it out in the open. According to news reports, crew members took it out of sight and used it for target shooting during the off hours.

Baldwin was handed the gun by Dave Halls, assistant director of production. Hannah Gutierrez Reed should have taken it.

Baldwin mishandled the gun

Baldwin ended the chain of mishaps. Despite the assistant director’s call that the gun was “cold” (meaning unloaded), police affidavits indicate it held a single live round in the cylinder.

HuffPost interviewed several Prop Masters to discuss whether Baldwin ought to have known. His reliance on the assistant director’s word that the gun was unloaded flies in the face of safe firearms handling, which dictates that the first thing anyone handling a gun should do is check whether it’s loaded, according to Mike Cargill, a firearms instructor and owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin.

“This is definitely negligent,” Cargill told HuffPost. “In the end, if you’re the person holding the firearm, you’re the person who’s going to be held responsible.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza speaks during a press conference on Oct. 27. That day, he shared that a bullet <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/rust-movie-shooting-ammunition-recovered_n_61795371e4b066de4f6a44e8?we" target="_blank" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-internal-link" data-vars-item-name="had been removed" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="617d99fce4b0931432193604" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/rust-movie-shooting-ammunition-recovered_n_61795371e4b066de4f6a44e8?we" data-vars-target-content-type="buzz" data-vars-type="web_internal_link">had been removed</a> from director Joel Souza's shoulder and sent away for testing.
Adan Mendoza, Santa Fe County Sheriff, speaks at a conference held on October 27. He shared with the press that he had just received a bullet. had been removedFrom Joel Souza, director.
Sam Wasson via Getty Images

Hollywood seems to have no universal guideline that explains whether actors need to understand what the status of guns they are handling. Actors should, by design, rely on the knowledge of the armorer. Checking the magazine or inspecting the cylinder runs the risk of disturbing the armorer’s work, introducing an unwelcome element of uncertainty.

“I don’t see any way, shape or form to blame Alec Baldwin,” McQuarrie said. “He’s in another world, acting. And all the other variables are being controlled by everybody else.”

But at least in New York, according to prop master Lucien Charles, it’s standard for armorers to load firearms that will contain blanks or demonstrate that a gun is unloaded in front of at least one other person, usually the assistant director, and often with the actor who will handle the gun present.

“Obviously, Mr. Baldwin should have done that with the armorer, with the assistant director standing there,” Charles said. “As long as everyone has an eye on it, they can make sure it’s safe. And the AD will know it’s a cold gun. It’s unfortunate someone lost their life over someone not doing a safety check.”

Baldwin was seen to be reckless with the firearm, even though it wasn’t loaded. Unloaded or not, no one should aim a gun at anyone.

“The cardinal rule that he broke is he pointed a the gun at a human,” Davis said “He’s handled guns in a lot of movies. He should know better.”

It’s unclear whether Baldwin, Hannah-Gutierrez, Halls or anyone else will face criminal charges in the “Rust” shooting. Prosecutors are leaving “all options on the table,” Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said this week. The 1993 shooting that killed actor Brandon Lee on the set of the film “The Crow,” the most similar case in an industry where firearm deaths are rare, did not result in criminal charges.

Both the Lee and Hutchins shootings appear unintentional, which helps determine prosecutors’ understanding.

The strict regulations governing firearm safety make it virtually impossible to excuse an accidental shot for being an accident. The logic holds that a gun can fire when someone pulls the trigger. This means that 100% of all rounds fly from the barrel.

“It’s culpable negligence,” Davis said. “There’s nothing accidental about it.”

Source: HuffPost.com.

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