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How Blank Cartridges In Prop Guns End Up Being Lethal

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How Blank Cartridges In Prop Guns End Up Being Lethal

After the news emerged that Alec Baldwin had fired a prop gun which killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, people started asking how a prop gun or blank cartridges could result in such a tragedy.

Although it isn't clear exactly what happened on the New Mexico film set for Rust, a spokesperson for Baldwin confirmed there was an accident.

Alec Baldwin. Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News
Alec Baldwin. Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

First of all, it's worth noting what a 'prop gun' is. They can be non-functioning weapons, but the term also applies to real guns which are used for authenticity purposes.

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Firing a blank from a prop gun means that you'll get a loud bang as well as a recoil and the flash created by the shot. This means the firing scene is as convincing as it can be.

As you may know, bullets are made of a cartridge case which holds a propellant such as gunpowder or cordite, at the top is a solid piece of metal - usually lead - which is the bullet itself.

Blank cartridges resemble the regular bullet, but they do not have the metal head. That is instead replaced with a material such as paper or cotton. This, in turn, means that a blank can create the same effects, but there is no metal that fires out.

Despite being considered less dangerous than live ammunition, they are far from harmless and can be fatal.

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Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust. Credit: Instagram/halynahutchins
Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust. Credit: Instagram/halynahutchins

Because of the risk attached with blanks, film sets often have rules in place about the use of prop guns. There will usually be someone on set who provides the weapons and gives advice on their use.

Theatrical armourer John Bowring told TripleM back in 2017: "Real guns are needed on film sets. Without real guns, you can't fire blanks.

"The best way I can describe it is a blank is a bullet without the 'bullet' projectile part of it. At the muzzle of a weapon, the energy is all there, you don't need [a bullet], it is a highly focused explosive charge."

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He added: "We, professional film armourers, would never consider blanks to be safe and not dangerous. It's the first thing that we teach people - these things are dangerous, and used incorrectly they can kill you."

Joel Souza was also wounded in the incident. Credit: Ron Adar/Alamy Stock Photo
Joel Souza was also wounded in the incident. Credit: Ron Adar/Alamy Stock Photo

TV writer David Slack has taken to Twitter to pass some advice. He wrote: "Not sure what happened here, but if you work in the industry, a reminder: Prop guns are guns. Blanks have real gunpowder in them.

"They can injure or kill - and they have. If you're ever on a set where prop guns are treated without proper caution and safe handling, walk away."

Featured Image Credit: dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Entertainment, TV and Film, News

Rebecca Shepherd
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