Alec Baldwin shooting: Why prop guns can turn deadly

Halyna Hutchins (right) was fatally shot by Alec Baldwin after he discharged a prop gun on the set of Rust. PHOTOS: AFP

SINGAPORE- American actor Alec Baldwin has fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza on the set of Western film Rust after discharging a prop gun, raising questions as to why prop guns can kill.

This is not the first time that on-set shootings have resulted in tragedies. The late actor Brandon Lee - the son of martial arts screen legend Bruce Lee - died at the age of 28 in 1993 while filming The Crow (1994).

A revolver that had been improperly prepared due to negligence on the part of the crew was fired by Lee's co-star in a scene. This sent a bullet directly into Lee's abdomen.

The gun had originally been loaded with blanks but it was later discovered that a bullet had been stuck in the barrel from a previous scene. When the blank fired, it propelled the bullet out and Lee took a fatal hit.

In another incident, American actor Jon-Erik Hexum died at the age of 26 in an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound on the set of television series Cover Up in 1984. Reportedly restless due to filming delays, he started toying with a pistol loaded with blanks and, in a joke, held the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

While blanks do not contain metal projectiles, gunpowder is still involved. When fired, the powder ignites and the force of the exploding gas can wound at close range. The impact of the blast fractured a piece of Hexum's skull, driving a fragment into his brain, which caused a massive haemorrhage.

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A prop gun is not always a toy or fake gun and it can be, in fact, a fully functional weapon.

According to the website of The Specialists LTD, a company that provides prop weapons to Hollywood productions, prop firearms fall into three categories.

Blank-firing guns are real guns that fire blanks - bullet shell casings with no projectile.

Replica guns are made with metal, resin, plastic, or rubber and designed to look identical to real guns. They do not fire.

Non-guns are similar to replica guns but have the added feature of an electronically triggered muzzle flash - the light created by a blast - to simulate a weapon firing.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said in a statement that the incident involved the misfiring of a prop gun with blanks.

Television writer David Slack, who has credits on series such as Law & Order (1990 to present), tweeted after the tragedy: "Prop guns are guns. Blanks have real gunpowder in them. They can injure or kill - and they have."

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