Firearms Expert Says a Real Gun Killed Halyna Hutchins, Not a 'Prop Gun' (Exclusive)
Following the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust last week, many are asking how such an accident could have happened. As the investigation continues, experts familiar with on-set firearms safety protocols are beginning to weigh in on the incident to clear up misconceptions.
On Tuesday, ET spoke with firearms expert Steve Wolf, who provided insight into how an incident like this could occur.
He explained that, while the gun was used in the film as a prop, it was still very much a real, working firearm and the term "prop gun" is a misnomer, and has been misused in reports on the incident.
"The gun that Helena was shot with was not a prop gun. A prop gun is a gun that has either been modified to only accept blanks, or has been specifically manufactured to only accept blanks," Wolf explained. "If bullets came out of this gun it was not a prop gun. It was a real gun that was being used as a prop in the movie."
The Sheriff’s Department in Sante Fe, New Mexico, confirmed to ET on Thursday evening that Alec Baldwin -- who stars in the film and serves as co-producer -- was the one who fired the gun used as a prop which led to the fatal accident. The shooting also injured director Joel Souza, who was treated in the hospital and subsequently released.
Wolf states that, in his professional opinion, "It was improper for them to have guns on set that were capable of firing live ammo."
According to a report from The Wrap, crew members on the film allegedly used the gun for target practice, shooting beer cans with real ammunition, to pass time on set. This could potentially explain how to real bullet got confused for a fake and remained in the gun.
"Don't bring guns on the set that you can put bullets into. Don't have live ammo on the set," Wolf said. "And most importantly don't point a gun at someone that doesn't pose a threat to you."
Ultimately, Wolf feels, "There's really no reason to use real, unmodified firearms on set."
According to an affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County’s Sheriff’s Office obtained by ET, Baldwin was told by assistant director Dave Halls, who handed him the gun, that it was safe to shoot, and he did not know the gun was loaded with live rounds. It's unclear how many rounds were fired.
According to Wolf, it should never have been handed to Baldwin by the assistant director in the first place.
"Only the armorer or the prop master should ever hand the weapon to anyone on set because that person is responsible for knowing the condition of the gun, verifying it themselves, and then passing both the gun and that knowledge to the next person who should then also open the gun, validate what they’ve been told before they close the gun and use it in the scene," Wolf said. "The procedures by which one can safely handle firearms on set are well known and well established... But it doesn’t matter how many rules you have if you don't have the knowledge and experience to follow them.
Wolf also said that past complaints against crew members who were key to safety protocols on set should have been an indicator not to hire them for such a potentially hazardous production.
"The fact that someone had safety red flags is absolutely a reason to pass on them," Wolf stated.
Rust is said to have had a series of problems before Hutchins' tragic death and Souza's injury. Multiple reports note that prior to the fatal shooting, many union crew members walked off set in protest of "poor" working conditions. There had also been at least one incident of a prop gun misfiring on the Rust set prior to the fatal accident and Souza being shot, Deadline reported.
According to a CNN report published on Monday, an assistant director on the set of Rust, Dave Halls, was previously the subject of complaints on the set of two previous productions in 2019.
The complaints leveled against Halls accuse him of unsafe practices, a disregard for safety protocols with regard to fire arms used during filming, and inappropriate behavior toward crew members. The complaints stem from his work on two episodes of the Hulu anthology horror series Into The Dark.
ET has also learned that Halls was fired from the set of the 2019 drama Freedom's Path. The film's production company, Rocket Soul Studios, released a statement to ET on Monday confirming his termination from the project.
Rust Movie Productions said in a statement to ET on Friday, "The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company. Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. "We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time."
A memo, obtained by ET, was also sent out by the Rust production team to the cast and crew of the film on Tuesday, explaining that they have hired a legal team that will be conducting interviews as part of an internal investigation, and that OSHA will be conducting interviews with the cast and crew as well.
"It feels too soon to be discussing interviews of crew members, but it is important that we hear from you as close to this tragedy as possible," the memo reads. "As you may know, it is standard practice for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate workplace deaths. OSHA has therefore visited the Rust production set and begun interviewing crew members. They have asked us to coordinate the meetings, so we may reach out to some of you over the next week for interviews."
"In addition to cooperating with authorities, we hired a legal team from Jenner & Block to conduct an investigation of the events. We have stressed that they will have full discretion about who to interview and any conclusions they draw. They may reach out to you over the next week as well. Because we want to reduce the amount of times you are inconvenienced, when allowed, Jenner & Block will join you for the OSHA interview," the memo continued. "We know that reliving this tragedy will be hard, but your participation is important for all of us to be able to fully understand what happened, and we encourage you to share your perspective."
A source told ET on Sunday, "Alec is beside himself. He is incredibly devastated and sick to his stomach over what happened. He is still processing everything and dealing with a lot of grief and shock."
The source added that Baldwin's wife, Hilaria Baldwin, is "trying to be there for Alec in the best way she can, but it is a heart shattering situation for everyone involved."
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