The first time gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed exposed gun safety rules to the cast and crew of the “Rust” film set, she hammered home a key point.
“I told people these are regular weapons that we have on set,” Gutierrez-Reed said in a taped interview with police. “Don’t stand in front of them. Do not point them at anyone. If he’s pointing in that direction, don’t stay in front of him.
A few days later, on October 21, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza stood in front of actor Alec Baldwin as he pointed a Colt .45 revolver at them and asked if he should cock the hammer. Gutierrez-Reed was not present. Baldwin fired the revolver, hitting Hutchins in the chest, killing her. The same bullet injured Souza in the right shoulder.
Over the next six months, one question has lingered: how did a live bullet enter the gun in Baldwin’s hands? A trove of police interview tapes, several hours of body camera and dash cam video, and hundreds of pages of incident reports and crime scene photos released in the past month do not offer a full answer.
The records, released over the objections of the Hutchins family, have since quietly been taken offline. Neither the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office nor the Hutchins’ family attorney would say why.
But the evidence, along with a stack of lawsuits filed for the shooting, points to major safety lapses and careless gun handling that played a key role in turning this life into a fatal mistake.
The gunsmith didn’t seem to check his ammunition supply carefully. The production team opted to give Baldwin a real gun to plan a shot instead of the shotless plastic or rubber imitations often used for rehearsals. And they let Baldwin point a gun directly at two people without a gunsmith present to oversee his actions.
The investigation leaves no doubt that the revolver held by Baldwin contained at least one active cartridge. Police eventually identified a total of seven live rounds on set, according to a lawsuit filed by Gutierrez-Reed against one of the film’s ammunition suppliers, Seth Kenney. Nobody noticed the real cartridges mixed up among the dummy bullets until after the shot.
This slip is unprecedented in the film industry, where gun accidents are rare and don’t usually involve live ammunition. Brandon Lee died on the set of “The Crow” when a white pushed a projectile through a clogged barrel ― not a live bullet. Jon-Erik Hexum passed away in 1984 after firing a blank through his right temple, which exploded with enough force that the wadding punctured his skull.
But even a live bullet wouldn’t necessarily have resulted in Hutchins’ death and Souza’s injury had the crew and cast followed industry gun safety precautions.
Around the world, gun safety generally depends on a handful of simple rules. Always check if the gun is loaded. Know your target and what is behind it. Keep your finger off the trigger guard before planning to shoot. And, most importantly, don’t point the cannon at anyone or anything you don’t plan to destroy.
Intentional redundancy means that negligently firing a deadly bullet requires breaking more than one rule simultaneously, starting with the most important. Keeping the barrel pointed down, for example, kept ‘Rust’ prop master Sarah Zachry from harming anyone when she accidentally fired a blank days before the fatal shooting, according to police records. .
These rules get fuzzier in the film industry, where actors naturally point guns at each other.
That doesn’t mean they don’t apply at all. Many shots that appear to be aimed directly from actor to actor are off by a few feet, according to multiple gunsmiths interviewed by HuffPost. When actors need to aim directly at another person, a gunsmith or prop man familiar with weapons usually directs their movements.
“Never point a gun at anyone, including yourself,” the Actors Equity Association’s list of gun safety tips reads. “Always cheat the shot by aiming to the right or left of the target character. If you are instructed to point and fire directly at a live target, consult the property master or gunsmith for prescribed safety procedures .
Baldwin, who has handled firearms in movies for decades and received shooting instruction, showed a detailed understanding in interviews with police of how firearms work, the different types of dummy cartridges, and the blanks used on film sets, as well as the basics of safe handling.
Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas, disputed that his client had to meet gun safety standards — a job that falls to the gunsmith and the production company that hired her. (Baldwin, also a producer of “Rust”, does not own Rust Production Co.)
“We’re not talking about ranged target practice,” Nikas told HuffPost. “What we’re talking about is a film set. He was pointing the gun exactly where he was told so the camera could get a close-up. There is no reasonable expectation that there will be live ammunition on the board. Period. Complete stop.”
But Baldwin also described practices on the “Rust” set that violated those standards. He thought the gun he handled on the day of the shooting was empty, but it wasn’t. He pointed a gun directly at people without a gunsmith present, despite being told not to. Gutierrez-Reed told police Baldwin seemed distracted by his phone during security briefings.
“We did this for two weeks and we did it the right way, every day, every day,” Baldwin told police. “You are on set. You repeat. They bring you what is called a “cold gun”. They always hand you a cold gun with nothing to repeat.
In fact, the gun Baldwin was holding contained what the gunsmith told police she believed to be six “dummy” rounds – ammunition that does not contain a primer, rendering it incapable of exploding and to fire a projectile. They’re easy to identify: some have holes drilled into the case while others vibrate when you shake them.
Baldwin was practicing a cross draw of the revolver when he fired the shot, according to initial reports. But according to Nikas, Baldwin and his colleagues were staging how to set up a camera angle for an upcoming scene. He slowly fired the gun towards the camera and eventually cocked the hammer, following Hutchins’ script and instructions, according to Baldwin’s Request for Arbitration.
Actors typically use unloaded or knockoff pistols for rehearsals, according to several gunsmiths interviewed by HuffPost. The Hutchins family wrongful death lawsuit argues that it was not necessary for Baldwin to be holding a real gun, “let alone a gun loaded with ammunition”, just to confirm positioning before shooting.
Dummy cartridges prevent revolvers from looking empty, which is not necessary during rehearsals. Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, Jason Bowles, said she “simulated” the weapon for a scene rehearsal at the producers’ request. Dummy bullets spawn a loaded weapon.
Gutierrez-Reed told police she had no specific protocols for demonstrating whether a revolver was unloaded, dummy loaded or blank loaded. Sometimes she let the actors pull the hammer half-cocked and spin the barrel to check. Other times, she did it herself in front of them ― the most common industry standard. Other times, the actors simply took her word for it.
Gunsmiths interviewed by HuffPost — who declined to speak officially about the shooting, citing liability issues in an incident that has sparked multiple lawsuits — said they were following stricter protocols.
Two gunsmiths said they routinely fire each dummy cartridge loaded into a revolver into the ground in the presence of the actor holding it, the assistant director, or both to prove that the cartridges in the gun are harmless. Some perform the same check up to four times before handing the weapon to the actor who will use it.
If the crew of “Rust” had performed such a check, the live bullet would have flown into the ground, causing little more than a scare.
Baldwin told police he was among those who took the armourer’s word.
“She would show me the gun, or she would say ‘cold gun, cold gun,'” Baldwin said in a police interview. “And she was like, ‘Do you want to check?’ And I didn’t mean to insult him. We never had a problem. I would say, ‘I’m fine.’ ”
Gunsmiths themselves usually provide instructions on how to handle firearms and position actors on set. They share the unique ability with the director to stop filming when they see something dangerous.
But after handing the gun to assistant director David Halls, the man who later handed it to Baldwin, calling it a “cold gun”, Gutierrez-Reed walked out of the chapel where the crew was filming and was at the outside when the shot sounded. .
Several gunsmiths have stated that they would rather leave a tray than leave a firearm in their load out of their sight.
But the 25-year-old gunsmith lacked experience and struggled to divide his time as a props assistant. The added responsibility was thrust upon her after she arrived on set for the low-budget film amid a labor dispute – several crew members had quit on the morning of filming. The production company’s COVID-19 protocols also limited who could stay inside during filming.
Bowles, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, wrote in an email to HuffPost that she left the chapel to perform prop duties assigned to her by the production crew.
If she had been there, she might have guided the rehearsal differently.
“Hannah would never have let Baldwin point the gun at Halyna, as part of standard gun safety practices,” Bowles wrote in her lawsuit. “Apparently no one inside the Church stopped Baldwin from doing it, including Halls.”
The Huffington Gt