Categories
Antigun

Prop guns

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.

END EDIT

14 replies on “Prop guns”

When I trained with the Army to support them in Iraq (as a Navy individual augmentee) a few years ago, I learned that there is no such thing as an “accidental” discharge, only a negligent one.

At the time, I thought is was BS. But the more I really thought about it, the sergeants were/are 100% correct. If you assiduously follow the 4 rules, barring a truly defective firearm – EG: Remington X-mark, the gun won’t fire. And if you can’t follow rules 1 or 3, at least rule 2 will prevent you from becoming a murder.

I get it, “movie magic, baby…”. So, if you’re gonna break rule 2 on purpose, everyone on that set is completely responsible, legally and morally, for the results of their negligence.

That may seem to be a harsh judgement, but anything else is a denial of the agency of the human holding the weapon. The gun is an inanimate object. It doesn’t and cannot know you didn’t mean it.

Your example of a .42 caliber firearm being safe(r) because no real ammunition is avilable in that caliber is incomplete.

If it is possible to screw up, it will happen eventually. No commercially available .42 caliber ammunition may exist (or any other “movie-only” caliber created for that sole purpose, for that matter) but someone, somewhere, will deliberately or accidentally discover that rimmed 38 Special or .32 caliber round, or the “.407 Snivley-Burnwell Semi-Rimmed” fits. The only possible preventive would be a chamber so short as to prohibit any known cartridge of any caliber from fitting, and by a sufficiently significant margin as to eliminate any possibility of incompetence, inattention or malice defeating the limitation.

It all still comes back to the prop master and the actor. I understand that actors don’t, and won’t, know s**t about the technical issues and risks involved – they’re actors – but I would expect the prop dept to be aware. I suspect in most cases a gun is “just another prop” so it gets the same scant attention a wine glass, book, telephone or other object from the prop dept. would get. Why a competent producer or director would not require every actor scheduled to handle a firearm receive, and demonstrate, full understanding of firearms safety escapes me; then again, were that the case,
such would make pointing any firearm at a live human anathema.

While it is true that establishing a movie only caliber isn’t foolproof, it establishes another level of safety that would require that a person deliberately circumvent it. Accidents become less likely.

Sorry to disagree with you, but if prop masters are too incompetent to keep real bullets out of prop guns, then having a ‘special caliber for movies dur’ won’t work.

The standard for prop-masters should be “No gun leaves my hands to the hands of the actor-idiots without me checking the barrel for obstructions and the ammo for correctness.”

What the propmasters should do and what they actually do is all reliant on the cognitive ability of the prop master.

And responsible actors, like Tom Selleck and Keanu Reeves, have taken good gun safety and training classes and are cognizant of the dangers of even just a prop gun.

Never ever ever underestimate the stupidity of people. Never.

Even the best person-of-the-gun will have a good chance of experiencing a negligent discharge in their life. We keep it from becoming fatal because we actively work on not doing stupid stuff like pointing a gun at someone even if it’s not loaded.

An added complication to this story is that (reportedly) the professional/union staff supporting this movie walked off the job about a week before this accident occurred. (If true, was this over a vaccine mandate?) So there may have been no “prop master” on site.

A further complication came out that Baldwin was supposedly playing around and being a jerk, in other words, just being Alec Baldwin.

The question arises as to why a live round would have been in a prop gun to begin with. If this is an object held by a studio property department, why and when was it taken off the lot and used to fire live rounds either at a range or at some other location? Or why would live rounds be fired on the lot or at a non-studio location shoot for that matter?

I don’t profess to know the inner workings of how studio prop departments work, but always figured they held a large inventory of objects that were useful and neccessary in the making of movies and TV shows. These objects (such as guns as ine example) would typically be owned and held in a long term inventory to be issued for use as needed.

Obviously, if some object (a certain type or model of gun) was needed and not in inventory for a given production, it would have to be procured from a gun dealer or an individual collector who had such a gun and was willing to sell or lease it for use as a prop. Any dealer or individual seller of a weapon not an abject moron would be certain any gun sold or leased was clear of any live rounds before releasing it to a buyer/lesee as a shield against liability.

Now then, whether the gun was newly acquired for the production in question, or was already in long term inventory of the prop department, it still doesn’t explain how a live round was present while in use on set during production. Once in inventory it should not have been allowed outside the studio ecosystem for any use other than in production. Apparently it was let out for imoroper use, or someone inside the confines of the studio or production placed the live round knowingly while it was still under studio control.

I likely give far too much credit to the people running these companies and their prop departments for properly cataloging and controlling access to inventory. Hollywood is a corrupt hellhole of filth and criminality, known to play fast and loose, so expecting “best practices” in the conducting of its business is laughable.

So then, either: 1) someone was fucking around during downtime where shooting (film) wasn’t taking place and loaded a live round for some stupid reason (shooting tree stumps out in the back 40?), or 2) it was intentional sabotage intended to bring about exactly the type of outcome that has occurred. Sounds crazy, but is it really?

Either way, alec baldwin (note that I no longer capitalize the names of assholes I find distasteful as a mild form of public insult) is culpable as he was the one holding and firing the gun. Ultimate responsibility for its safe use is entirely on him, whether he knew sweet fuckall about gun safety or not; and he damn well should have, if handling a real weapon. Accessories to the crime may certainly be determined as well, assuming a proper investigation (yeah, sure) is undertaken. A crime – negligent homicide at a minimum – was most assuredly comitted. And I’ll go on record now stating that if anyone does take consequences for it, said responsibility will be quietly foisted off on some petty functionary.

The use of the word “prop” has several meanings. It has come to mean a fake or something used as part of a theater set. I think the term originally came from the longer term, “property”. which means an item owned by the theater (the house) or by a performing company and which is used as part of a performance. There was nothing “fake” about that firearm.

There is a lot going on at a movie set. Someone appartly though that an actor needed some live-fire experience to improve his performance. That firearm should never have had live ammunition, that firearm should have been returned to the property man for clearing, cleaning, etc. Baldwin got the firearm, didn’t check the load, then pointed the firearm at a human and pulled the trigger. Yep. He gets full credit for that shot. Shoulda, shoulda, shoulda, but when he pulled the trigger, he owned the result. That was no equipment failure.

owned by the theater (the house) or by the performing company, which is used on stage. There was nothing “fake” about these pistols that were used on the set.

Since the set was in a rather remote area, my guess is that “someone” felt that an actor needed some live-fire experience to learn a reasonable grip or stance. Using a “stage” firearm for that purpose was foolish, at best. That firearm should have been returned to the propman (property man) to be cleared, cleaned and checked. The actor (talent) should have checked his firearm and never should have pointed it at anyone, until he had done so. If there was a scripted action that had one actor shoot at another, I would expect that the actor should verify the ammunition that was in his “prop”. Baldwin took a firearm and didn’t check the loading for the proper stage ammunition and pointed it at an employee and pulled the trigger. Granted that the stage weapon should never have been used for live fire, the property man should have cleared the live ammo, but Baldwin gets full credit for pointing the firearm at a human and pulling the trigger.

In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum was handling a prop gun, jokingly held it to his head and and when the handgun discharged it sent the wadding thru his skull causing irreparable brain damage. He was taken off life support a week later and his organs were donated.

Yep, killed himself, killed the series, killed promising careers. All with one stupid “stunt”.

Not according to Aesop. See, that was the prop department’s fault, according to him.

It was the armorers fault, that the pistol wasn’t taken from him during a long wait to shoot the scene. It was his fault for putting the pistol to his temple and pulling the trigger. While making some stupid remark about killing himself.

Comments are closed.