NYT: Loose ammo found on Baldwin set after shooting

The case for negligence keeps growing in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of Alec Baldwin’s Rust. Reports that the crew had used the same pistol for earlier target practice that Baldwin accidentally fired at Hutchins and director Joel Souza raised questions about the handling of firearms on the set. Late yesterday, the New York Times reported that deputies also found loose ammunition on the set, where it shouldn’t have ever been at all:

Detectives found three revolvers, spent casings and ammunition — in boxes, loose and in a fanny pack — when they searched the New Mexico film set where the actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer last week with a gun he had been told did not contain any live rounds, according to an inventory of the items seized that was released on Monday.

The new details emerged four days after Mr. Baldwin shot the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, while rehearsing a scene in which he draws a revolver from his holster and points it at the camera, according to an affidavit used to obtain the warrant to search the set. The inventory, filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court, did not specify what kind of ammunition was seized, and whether it included regular bullets, blank cartridges or dummies.

Taken together, the guns, ammunition and blood from the scene where the movie “Rust” was being filmed did not answer the central question of how Ms. Hutchins was killed with a gun that was not supposed to contain live ammunition.

Mike Tristano, a veteran professional armorer based in Los Angeles, said the inventory was vague and gave scant information about the type of guns or bullets found. But he did point to the reference to loose ammunition and spent casings as unusual. Typically, ammunition would be kept in a clearly labeled box, he said. “The fact that there is loose ammunition and casings raises questions about the organization of the armory department,” he said.

It may not fully answer the “central question of how,” but it’s dropping some very big hints. If the crew and cast were mixing live ammunition with blanks on the set and in the very firearms used for the filming, that would go a long way to explaining how a live round ended up in the pistol handed to Baldwin for the fatal rehearsal. That’s especially true if it turns out that the ammunition was widely dispersed and not locked away.

Of course, one has to take this with at least a little reserve, if not skepticism. It’s possible that the ammunition belonged to crew members for their own firearms. New Mexico is a state where firearms are more common, and personal carry might be more popular there than in California. If that’s the case, then perhaps it might be a security issue for the producers, but if it wasn’t a crew member who mishandled the weapon, that would make this more or less irrelevant.

Even if it’s related to the production, we don’t know enough to calculate the significance of this finding yet. For instance, what were the caliber of the pistol and the calibers of the ammunition? Presumably if the earlier target-practice report was accurate, some of the ammunition found by deputies would match up with the pistol in question and the bullet that killed Hutchins — if in fact it was a bullet. Do we know that for sure yet? Not quite, although it’s tough to imagine that anything other than a live round would pass through Hutchins and hit Souza. But if the loose ammunition doesn’t fit Baldwin’s pistol, then it’s just coincidental to the shooting even if it does paint a picture of negligence on the set.

That still leaves the question of why Rust used real firearms at all. Jazz raised this question yesterday, and so have others. Why take the risk with real firearms when it’s just as easy to use CGI for effects, or at least a disabled firearm with a flash charge instead? The family of Brandon Lee wants film production codes to mandate against real firearms as a result of what happened on The Crow as well as Rust. It might be time for audiences to insist on it as well.

Update: This question has generated some good response on Twitter, including from my friend Adam Baldwin, who declares (correctly) that “it’s not the gun’s fault.” Nick Searcy calls it misdirection:

I think that’s likely not the case with the Lee family, but may well be the case with some in the media. That’s why I cautioned about leaping to conclusions based on the NYT report.