This story is a staff report from The Paper.

Actor Alec Baldwin

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office confirmed late Thursday that a prop gun fired on a movie set by actor Alec Baldwin killed the director of photography, 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins and injured the film’s writer and director Joel Souza.


What is a “blank”?

Blank cartridges are primarily used by law enforcement and military trainers to provide realistic scenario training. And because they are often packed with the same powder – just without the projectile – they are also used in film production to achieve realistic noise, smoke, recoil and muzzle flashes.

Blank cartridges from Western Stage Props

But just because the cartridge does not have a bullet projectile doesn’t make it entirely without risk.

So how does a prop gun designed to simulate a shooting actually lead to death? It has happened before. According to NPR News:

Brandon Lee, who was 28 at the time, was the son of the late martial-arts star Bruce Lee. He was killed after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie The Crow. The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but an autopsy turned up a bullet lodged near his spine.

Lee’s death in 1993 was the last recorded accidental death by a prop gun on a movie set.

The death of American actor Brandon Lee (shown here in 1986) during the filming of The Crow garnered worldwide attention and prompted changes on how firearms are treated on sets.

Before that, in 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum was killed on the set of the TV series Cover Up. Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head with a gun loaded with blanks.

While it is too early to speculate on what happened on the Santa Fe set this week, film sets are required to have a trained prop weapons armorer on every set where firearms are present, according to the International Association of Theatrical Stage Workers (IATSE), the union representing most film production workers.