‘Rust’ Killing Forces Hollywood to Make Choices on Guns

The fatal “Rust” shooting offered a vivid reminder that many of the guns used on film sets are real. Sometimes they are loaded with inert dummy rounds that resemble real bullets but cannot be fired; that was supposed to be the case in the scene Mr. Baldwin was filming. Sometimes they are loaded with blanks — cartridges with gunpowder but no projectiles — that produce a loud bang and a flash when fired. But while live ammunition is almost always banned on sets, real guns can of course also be loaded with real bullets, which is what happened in 2021 on the day Ms. Hutchins was killed.

That is why, in the days after the “Rust” shooting, the Santa Fe County district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies, took issue with news reports that had described the weapon that killed Ms. Hutchins as a prop gun. “It was a legit gun,” she said.

Blank fire is far from extinct onscreen. In theaters now, moviegoers are watching the female lead of “Priscilla,” about the marriage of Priscilla and Elvis Presley, shoot blanks in a scene where her character is practicing with a pistol, and in “Napoleon,” about the 19th-century French emperor, actors fire blanks out of period-style muskets.

But since “Rust,” many armorers, who are responsible for firearms safety on sets, have seen opportunities dwindle, several said in interviews. And demand has increased for alternatives to real guns. Steven Leek, the co-director of an armory in Britain that specializes in gas-powered guns, said that he was getting more requests for them — though there had been a growing interest before “Rust” as well — and that they were used in “Golda,” the recent Helen Mirren film about Golda Meir and the Yom Kippur War.

Dwayne Johnson, whose production company has produced gun-heavy action titles such as “Red Notice,” has pledged to stop using operable guns, saying “we won’t worry” about how it might affect visual effects costs. The director Guy Ritchie released a movie this year about the war in Afghanistan, called “The Covenant,” in which he said he used no real guns, telling Newsweek that Airsofts “look as good as real weapons.”

“There is absolutely no reason for anyone to be using real guns on sets,” said Rebecca West, a visual effects producer who has worked on action movies such as this year’s Ben Affleck thriller “Hypnotic,” which included a final shootout scene with gunfire that was entirely computer generated.

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