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What does 'Cold Gun' mean? Explaining what happened moments before fatal Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting incident

Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins (Image via AP and Mat Hayward /Getty Images)
Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins (Image via AP and Mat Hayward /Getty Images)
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Abhirup Sengupta

On Thursday, October 21, It's Complicated star Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when he fired a prop gun on the set of Rust. The actor also injured director Joel Souza who was later discharged from the hospital.

According to an affidavit written by detective Joel Cano of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, it was revealed that the prop gun had a live bullet that was fired during the shooting. It was later discovered that Assistant Director Dave Hall had handed the firearm to Alec Baldwin.

Hall, who was not aware of the live round in the gun, yelled, "Cold gun!" The call signified that the gun was safe to use.

This term refers to a prop gun which has been checked and may contain a blank charge for mimicking muzzle flashes. Live rounds have no likely reason to be inside a prop gun. Read on to find the difference between live round and a blank.

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As per Daily Mail, the gun was an older generation Colt which was given to Alec Baldwin, who, in turn, was under the impression that the weapon was a prop one.


How did the bullet shot by Alec Baldwin kill the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of 'Rust?'

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The recent official affidavit also revealed the armorer of the movie was 24-year-old Hannah Guiterrez Reed, who placed three guns on a cart outside the set, including the one with a live round.

As mentioned before, Assistant Director Hall brought the gun to Alec Baldwin, who thought the gun was equipped with a blank. Alec Baldwin aimed at the camera and fired, hitting Hutchins and director Joel Souza (who was nearby). Hutchins was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she unfortunately passed away at the age of 42.

Here's what Alec Baldwin said regarding the mishap:

1-There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and
2- I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.

Who was responsible for the handling of the prop guns?

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While prop guns may also include rubber guns that do not have any functionalities of a regular firearm, the one used on the set of Rust was a real one. According to filming norms (in place since the 1980s), a weapons armorer is in charge of all firearms used during shoots.


Hannah Gutierrez Reed's role:

Hannah Gutierrez Reed (Image via Hannah Gutierrez Reed/ Instagram)
Hannah Gutierrez Reed (Image via Hannah Gutierrez Reed/ Instagram)

Although a few sources claimed that armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed had brought in the prop guns, a source for the New York Post claims that the prop-master who was handling the guns was just "brought in as a replacement for someone." If this conflicting information is true, then Reed's involvement in managing the firearms is still unclear.


As per the Actors' Equity Association guidelines, a firearm must be pre-fired and tested before a scene is filmed. The gun must also be free of any unwanted foreign object, including a dummy or blank bullet.

The guidelines clearly state,

"All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision."

Despite the negligence during production, the authorities have not charged anyone yet.


What is the difference between dummy/blanks or 'live round'?

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A live round in most contexts refers to a fully functioning bullet that could be fatal if fired from a gun and hit someone.

Meanwhile, a blank or a dummy is mostly void of an actual bullet. However, the blank may still have a gunpowder charge, primer, and a casing. Usually, the charge is placed in the casing with the help of a paper or a plastic tab to minimize the risk.


Controversy with 'Rust' production

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Earlier, several publications also revealed that the union of workers on set had been protesting as production refused to reimburse them for accommodation at the shooting's location, i.e. Santa Fe. Instead, the film producers expected the crew to commute around an hour to and from Albuquerque. Alec Baldwin was one of Rust's executive producers.

It was reported that several unionized workers apparently walked off the set due to unsuitable working conditions, just hours before the fatal mishap. Furthermore, there had even been another misfire of a prop weapon a few days before the accident.

A similar incident with a prop gun's safety had plagued Hollywood in 1993 when Bruce Lee's son Brandon was killed on the set of The Crow at the age of 28. Just like Alec Baldwin's mishap, a co-star fatally shot Brandon.


Edited by Atul S
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