There is a lot of discussion of Alec Baldwin’s accidental killing of a person on his movie set. All of the facts indicate that Alec Baldwin was handling some kind of prop firearm, fired that weapon, and two people were injured, one fatally. Those facts don’t seem to be in dispute. There are a few things being debated:
- Was this a REAL firearm, or a prop?
- What was the projectile that struck the victims?
- Who is responsible?
Let’s start with the first question: Was this a real firearm, or a prop? Prop firearms generally fall into 3 categories:
- Blank firing guns are real firearms in every sense of the word, as defined by the government, and are regulated and handled accordingly. As the name implies, they fire blanks – bullet shell casing with no projectile.
- Replica guns are props made with metal, resin, plastic, and/or rubber. Depending on the needs of the production and the scene, they can be made to look identical to real guns. They do not fire, have no firing pin, and are not subject to the same strict regulation and safety requirements as blank guns.
- Non-guns are similar to replica guns but have the added feature of an electronically-triggered muzzle flash to simulate a weapon firing.
In this case, it is almost certain that the pistol in question was a blank firing gun. A replica gun would not fire anything, and would not look as if it were firing, no muzzle flash. A non-gun would likely not be capable of firing any sort of projectile.
So that brings us to question #2: What was the projectile that struck the victims?
If it was a real firearm, there are two possibilities: The cartridge was either a “blank” or a “live round.” A blank is the same as a live round, with two exceptions: The bullet is missing, and has been replaced with a cardboard or wax plug, so as to prevent the gunpowder from falling out.
While it is possible for a blank to injure or kill, this only happens at ten feet or less. Once past that range, the cardboard or wax cap has lost most of its speed, and the gases have dissipated to the point that they are no longer dangerous. (As long as we are talking about small arms. A 120mm cannon has a larger muzzle blast that is beyond this discussion)
There was the case of Brandon Lee, who was killed when a bullet was lodged in a pistol barrel from an earlier shooting session where the round was a ‘squib,’ and the gun was subsequently used as a movie prop. The gases from the blank forced the bullet out of the barrel, striking and killing Lee.
Absent a “Lee” style incident, it is likely that the projectile(s) that struck the victims was an actual bullet from a live round.
This brings us to the third question:
There are those who say that it was the responsibility of the prop department to properly check the gun to make sure it was safe for use as a prop, and that it isn’t Baldwin’s fault for the mistakes of the prop department.
I don’t buy this argument. Let me use my experience as a paramedic as an example. Let’s say that we are working on a patient, and I want to give a medication to a patient by injection. One of my coworkers will pull out the vial, use a syringe to draw the medication out of that vial, and hand me the syringe. Before I inject that medication, the person who drew it up for me shows me the vial, the syringe, and says “This is ten milligrams of morphine at 1 milligram per milliliter.” It is then my responsibility to look at the vial and the syringe to verify that was was done is correct. If I don’t, it is my fault if the wrong drug or dose was given.
In the same vein (no pun here), the prop department is there to examine the prop firearm and inspect it for safety. I won’t argue against that. However, the person who pulled the trigger has the ultimate and final responsibility to inspect that firearm to ensure that the barrel is unobstructed, the ammunition in it is only blanks, and that the firearm is pointed at a safe backdrop and isn’t pointed at another human before the trigger is pulled.
If the person using that ‘prop’ hasn’t done that, or doesn’t know HOW to do that, then they are negligent in the required knowledge to use that firearm (prop or not) and SHOULD be held liable, both civilly and criminally. After the incidents that have happened involving firearms on movie sets, it isn’t like Hollywood can say they aren’t aware of the risks.
Baldwin makes MILLIONS to do a movie. If he is going to make that kind of money, he needs to seek out the knowledge and training to do so safely. If he fails to do so, then what happened was 100% his fault.
EDITED TO ADD:
So it turns out that a live round was used. Baldwin couldn’t have bothered to do a simple inspection of the firearm to ensure that a live round with a bullet on the front wasn’t in the gun.
I think that Baldwin should be prosecuted, but we all know that celebrities are above the law.
I also think that prop guns should be of a caliber that actual, commercial ammunition isn’t compatible with the firearm, and any studio using a commercial firearm that hasn’t been thusly modified should be civilly and criminally liable when an accident happens. Think of a line of guns that fire a .42 caliber short. Since real ammo doesn’t exist in that caliber, there is no chance of a mistake.