The tragedy on the Bonanza Creek Ranch film set has the movie industry reeling. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins is dead and director Joel Souza was injured because a gun being used in filming the Western, Rust, was fired last Thursday.

Left to sort out what happened are investigators with the Santa Fe County Sheriff Office. Until the investigation is complete, speculation is useless and often cruel.

We do not know why the gun actor Alec Baldwin held was able to kill and wound. We do not know what sort of ammunition was inside. A “live” round in Hollywood is not necessarily a bullet in the chamber, according to movie weapons experts. “Live” can refer to any gun loaded with material such as a blank, simply indicating the weapon is ready for filming.

Witness statements report Baldwin was told the gun was “cold,” meaning without ammunition. He should have been able to trust that claim. We know safety protocols were breached, but which ones and when still must be determined. We also know some crew members walked off to protest set conditions before the incident, and serious questions have been raised about whether cost-cutting on the production played a role in the tragedy. Both criminal and civil responsibility remain to be determined.

We also know this: Guns on movie sets do not have to fire projectiles. Weapons can be disabled to eliminate any risk of a person dying from an errant gunshot while filming. Using computer-generated imagery, productions can add muzzle flashes and other necessary special effects.

To be sure, Hollywood sets have safety protocols around the use of weapons that are both strict and generally effective — the death last week is just one of three related to on-set gun use since 1984. Actor Jon-Erik Hexum died that year from a self-inflicted gunshot involving a firearm with blanks. In 1993, Brandon Lee died from a shooting involving a prop gun on the set of The Crow.

Clearly, safety protocols broke down on the Rust set.

But why risk one death when it’s avoidable? That’s the question Hollywood is facing now.

Producers of ABC’s The Rookie announced Friday the series will stop using live guns on set. “Any risk is too much risk,” showrunner Alexi Hawley wrote. Craig Zobel, the director of Mare of Easttown, wrote this on Twitter: “There’s no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore.”

Already, a California Democratic state senator, Dave Cortese, is planning on introducing legislation to improve safety conditions by banning “live” guns on film sets and other productions.

There would be little need for legislation if on-screen gun violence were less prevalent. Whether on cop procedural shows, Westerns, big-screen spy franchises, gangster movies or gritty independent films, the gun too often has a starring role.

This latest tragedy offers a moment to consider why so much entertainment includes watching people being shot and killed, over and over, endlessly. Adding muzzle fire in post-production would reduce the risk of on-set tragedies, and that’s a worthy goal. Even better? Writers, actors and directors determined to make movies and TV shows that celebrate life rather than glorifying violence.

(20) comments

Paul Grant

Its really very simple. No live guns on any set anywhere with any film. A blank is live ammunition and can kill and has killed human beings. There is only one way to deal with this. Any simulation of a gun going off can be done through video technique. There is no reason to have a gone that can actually shoot anything. The movie industry simply has to come to this conclusion. While these incidences are extremely rare more often they result in tragedy. It does not ever have to happen again provided the right decision is made here.

ba hop

I find it sad that REAL guns deaths in this country do not generate even as much as a yawn in comparison to this accidental one...

Khal Spencer

I made that point a few days ago. Its not how someone has a gun mishap. Its whether it is an anonymous kid on the southwest side or a member of the Beautiful People that counts. Newtown, IIRC, is a well off location in CT. That kind of slaughter goes on every week in Chicago or Philly but the kids are Black, Latino/a, and other minorities or the poor.

I hope that since this is getting so much air time, anyone who has a gun in the house thinks about the various ways they can have an accidental discharge.

Of course the problem is that true accidents make up only a couple percent of gun injuries and fatalities so even if we had no accidents, we would still have a lot of GV. Two thirds are suicides and the rest intentional shootings, such as the ones we hear about here and in Albuquerque. Stopping those two major classes requires getting to the root cause of why people want to turn on a firearm on themselves or each other. Solutions? The problem is, for every Wayne LaPierre, there is a Mike Bloomberg and the extreme voices get all the air time and checks in the mail. Thus nothing gets done.

Mike Johnson


Gini Barrett

I agree with you.

Emily Hartigan

Guns on movie sets are props, not functioning as weapons. Layers of experts are supposed to insure they are not functioning as weapons and that they are not loaded with bullets. Actors are neither soldiers nor gun-users. They are prop-users.

This was cowboy culture. I hoped I'd left that behind in Texas. All the gun-shooting and ammunition they found on set, is a bad reflection on New Mexico.

Khal Spencer

The problem is, real guns are used on the sets. Treating them like "props" only ensures sloppy handling and accidents. If the armorer knows they have "props" from which a projectile can be expelled, strict protocols have to be followed. And if you hand a "prop" to an actor or actress or an AD, they better be briefed on firearm safety and FOLLOW IT.

I don't care how many "experts" would be at the range. I would never hand a firearm to a clueless individual and declare it is safe. Education comes first and the recipient has to be seen as understanding it (we had Open Range Day up at Los Alamos a few weeks ago and I was one of the people instructing newbies and I too was under close observation by a certified Range Safety Officer).

If these people can spend money on all the other setup, they can spend some on firearm safety or just stop making shoot-em-up movies. Maybe that last idea is the best one.

Emily Hartigan

Khal, I was once that clueless individual, long ago in Wisconsin at a law firm retreat.

I would never give a gun to me. I miscounted and doing the safety thing almost carelessly, shot the "seventh" shot into the ground and scared the junk out of myself.

If I were an actor, I would know I was only an actor, not a gun expert.

Khal Spencer

I never did that with a gun, but back in college before I paid enough attention to how to be safely charging a battery, I blew up a motorcycle battery in my dorm room and fortunately, only lost a shirt and pants out of it.

As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations"

Mike Johnson

Old West style, single action revolvers (like I am assuming they used here) do not have swing out cylinders to look at how it is loaded. The old west practice of load one, skip one, load four is used. It would be very difficult to see what was loaded here.

Khal Spencer

Here is what Mike is talking about with single action "Cowboy style" revolvers and 4-0-1 loading. Note the guy is loading "dummy rounds", and I can see that because they are blue Snap Caps.

Gini Barrett

If New Mexico wants a thriving film and television industry we need to learn to leave the wild west macho thinking at home.

Pete Prince

"... Baldwin was told the gun was “cold,” meaning without ammunition. He should have been able to trust that claim." Wow! This statement goes against what I have long considered proper caution with respect to guns. Don't trust anyone and don't handle a gun unless you have verified its condition. If you are not familiar with the action ask whoever has the gun to demonstrate it for you. A gun is not considered unloaded until you have verified both the chamber and the magazine (or equiv) are empty. Seems to me that the social environment on the set was way too casual. The gun should have been presented to the actor in an empty condition with the chamber open. The ammunition should be out in the open for all to see. Now the actor can verify the condition of the gun and load "ammunition" as he/she sees fit or observe someone else do it. Bad things can happen quickly with a gun, but guns are used everyday without incident. Knowledge is the difference!

Andrew Lucero


Khal Spencer

Well said, Pete. Knowledge and strictly following procedure as you have described one way of doing it.

Khal Spencer

Hollywood is quite good at being comfortably left wing and anti-gun while making tons of money celebrating gun violence. If we want to de-emphasize gun violence, we should ask Hollywood to stop making money by gleefully projecting it onto the silver screen. I long ago lampooned the "Man Card" ad extolling the Bushmaster. Apparently, Hollywood never got the message.

Someone made a video contrasting Hollywood actors and actresses condemnation of guns interspersed with their joyful roles in shooting each other on the set. The language in the video is not good for a community paper but with fair warning, here it is.

As far as "...Witness statements report Baldwin was told the gun was “cold,” meaning without ammunition. He should have been able to trust that claim " is bad advice. As the New Mexican editorial writers know or should know, you always check a weapon before assuming it is "cold" regardless of what someone tells you. Especially, in this case, since the guns sat on a table after being set up, while the film crews were off having lunch.

If live guns are to be used on the set, its not too much to ask an actor to do a final gun safety check before the director calls "action", is it? Especially since the alternative can be a dead body.

Guns are not toys. Even prop guns. Period.

Richard Reinders

. [thumbup]

Emily Koyama

Well said. Actors often spend months prepping for a role. Practicing accents, using personal trainers and dieticians/chefs to get thin (or fat!)....or study martial arts hard would it be to put them through a few days of firearm safety training?

Mike Johnson

Well said Khal, and of course this esteemed editorial board would take this position, they also want all guns anywhere eliminated. At least they are consistent?

Andrew Lucero


Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.