It was national news a few days ago when on a movie set, Alec Baldwin fired a shot from “a prop gun” that proved fatal to one staff person on the set, and wounded another. According to one account, a single projectile passed through the fatally wounded woman and struck the surviving victim in the collarbone area. https://www.showbiz411.com/2021/10/22/exclusive-eyewitness-recounts-shooting-on-alec-baldwin-movie-set-one-bullet-ripped-through-both-victims
Let us set aside for a moment our feelings about Mr. Baldwin. The man has a long reputation as a bully. He is almost as loudly and rabidly anti-gun as he is anti-Trump. As one of the gun owners he has vilified, I have no use for the man.
As I write this we are hearing all sorts of as yet-unconfirmed reports that Baldwin had facetiously said something like “How about I just shoot you all” just before he fired. Don’t consider anything until it has been verified!
There have been other prop gun tragedies on movie sets. One, decades ago, was the death of actor Jon-Eric Hexum. One account had him playing Russian roulette with a blank loaded revolver, and in another version he was frustrated that things were taking too long on the set, and dramatically put the gun to his head as if to commit suicide, and pulled the trigger. When I went through an Advanced Officer Involved Shooting Investigation school in Los Angeles, our class got a briefing on that case from the detectives who investigated it. We were told the blank cartridge in the Charter Arms Backpacker custom .44 Special revolver blew a plug of cranial bone the size of a quarter deep into Hexum’s brain. He had been declared brain-dead before they pulled the plug on him. Some of us in the class thought he must have been brain-dead before he pulled the trigger.
That happened, as I recall, back when the police show “Hill Street Blues” was one of the most popular on TV. In two consecutive episodes, one ended when the despondent SWAT commander Howard, played by James B. Sikking, puts a Colt Python .357 Magnum to his head and a shot is heard, ending the cliff-hanger. In the next week’s episode, the character appears, suitably chastened by his near death experience and with a little Band-Aid™ on his temple, and we learn that someone played a trick on him and loaded his gun with blanks. Could Hexum have seen that episode, and been misled? I’ve always wondered.
Bruce Lee’s promising son Brandon was killed on a movie set by a bullet from a “prop gun,” a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. In an earlier scene, when the gun had to be seen from the front, it was loaded with dummy rounds (case, no powder, but bullet). One version of the story is that the bullet wasn’t properly crimped and remained in its chamber of the revolver’s cylinder, unnoticed until the powerful powder charge of a blank cartridge drove it down the barrel and into Lee’s belly. Another version has it that a primer-only cartridge had driven the bullet into the barrel, and it was launched by a subsequent blank.
I have some familiarity with blank cartridges. I have on more than one occasion used blanks to fire at a remote camera (with no one behind it) to simulate a defendant’s view of a shooting or firing downrange where there was no safe backstop to perform a court demonstration of speed of fire from an unusual angle. Each time the gun was scrupulously multi-checked and no human being was downrange in front of the muzzle.
My first article in GUNS magazine in the 1970s was titled “The Guns of Gordon’s War.” That was an obscure action movie in which semiautomatic guns like the Luger and the 1911 .45 were modified by master gunsmith Nolan Santy to operate with blank cartridges. Part of making them work without the recoil of a bullet leaving the barrel was to put thick steel washers into the barrel to force more expanding gases backward. These in turn were likely to keep a bullet from exiting at lethal velocity, though the gun might have blown up if fired with a live cartridge. The flick Baldwin and company were making was reportedly a period Western set in the 1880s, so there would have been no semiautomatic weapons expected.
We may not like Alec Baldwin, but we have no right to pre-judge him. Let’s wait for the facts to come out. Condolences to those who were hurt in this sad, avoidable incident.