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How could Alec Baldwin have killed Halyna Hutchins with a prop firearm?

While prop firearms used on movie sets are filled with blank rounds, they can still do damage to anyone close to or in pointing direction of the weapon.

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How could Alec Baldwin have killed Halyna Hutchins with a prop firearm?
ANGELA WEISS AFP

Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot dead a film crew member and injured another on the set of his new movie “Rust” in New Mexico on Thursday.

Director of photography Halyna Hutchins, 42, was pronounced dead at the University of New Mexico Hospital after being transported by helicopter from the set. Director Joel Souza, 48, was transported to Christus St. Vincent's Regional Medical Center by ambulance for care and an update on his condition is yet to be released.

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The shooting is understood to have occurred at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe. No charges have yet been filed in regard to the incident, the police told Reuters, adding that the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing. Baldwin's representatives did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

How could a prop firearm kill Halyna Hutchins?

Balwin, 63, accidentally shot Hutchins dead with what is commonly referred to as a “prop firearm”. So how could a so-called “prop firearm” be deadly?

Well one thing that must be made clear is that the term “prop firearm” does not only refer to non-functional weapons like those used in the theater, or toy guns that use fire caps to produce smoke. The term is also used to refer to real guns that are used as props on movie sets, with movie directors often choosing real weapons to add authenticity, particularly for close-up shots.

Of course these weapons are never loaded with real bullets, with actors always firing blank cartridges. Which leads to the question then: how could a gun loaded with blanks kill a person?

While a real bullet may not be fired from a gun loaded with blank cartridges, the pulling of the trigger creates several reactions that can still do damage to anyone in close range or in the pointing direction of the firearm.

When you pull the trigger of a fully loaded gun, the firing pin strikes the primer located in the bottom of the cartridge, which ignites the gunpowder, causing an explosion of superhot gasses that shoot the bullet out of the barrel at high speed. The shell casing is then expelled from the gun and a new cartridge is loaded into the chamber.

A blank cartridge does pretty much the same except with no bullet, the tip of the cartridge is either crimped or sealed with paper wadding or wax to hold in the gunpowder. That means that when the trigger is pulled, you still get the bang, recoil, muzzle flash, and an ejected shell, which is why blank cartridge-loaded guns are used for authenticity.

But despite the fact there is no bullet, you still get the muzzle flash and the expulsion of superhot gasses, which can pose a danger to anyone near the end of the barrel.

Although, it must be noted that details have yet to emerge about exactly what happened on the set of “Rust” on Thursday when Baldwin accidentally killed Hutchins.

Hutchins friend: Something “incredibly sloppy” happened

Adam Egypt Mortimer, a director and friend of Hutchins, has said that he can’t understand how the shooting happened.

“I don’t want to speculate on how this could have happened. And I think we’re all hoping to see a really close investigation,” said Mortimer (via BBC Radio).

“It seems that something incredibly sloppy must have taken place. There was just a complete lack of care at the moment when there needed to be the most care."

Has anything like this happened before?

There have been several incidents like this on movie sets over the years, but perhaps the most famous case is that involving the late Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, who died on the set of “The Crow” in 1993 following an accident involving a prop gun.

During a scene in which Lee’s character is shot by a fellow actor using a prop gun, a cartridge with a projectile tip had unknowingly got stuck in the chamber, and when a blank round was loaded and fired, it pushed the live round out, fatally wounding the 28-year-old Hollywood star.