Fatal mistake on movie set was live ammo, says Utah gun expert

Oct 27, 2021, 6:29 PM

Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian demonstrates how a bump stock works when attac...

Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian demonstrates how a bump stock works when attached to a semiautomatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range Oct. 4, 2017, in South Jordan. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

(Photo: Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Live ammunition has no place on a working movie set, which is the film-industry standard, said a Utah firearms expert who has worked as a weapons handler on filming locations.

Earlier this week, actor Alec Baldwin fired a shot that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injured director Joel Souza on the movie set of “Rust” in Santa Fe, N.M.

Souza, who was shot in the shoulder, also confirmed to an investigator that he heard the term “cold gun” on set, meaning the firearm should have been empty as reported by CNN.

No charges have as yet been filed.

Local firearms expert weighs in on movie set shooting

Clark Aposhian, chairman of Utah Shooting Sports Council, discussed firearm-safety protocols on movie sets with KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Noriega and Amy Donaldson of Deseret News.

Aposhian said he has worked as a weapon handler or armorer on movie sets with Nicolas Cage, Will Smith, John Cusack, Bill Pullman, and others. He said the main reason to have a weapon handler on the set is for insurance purposes.

No live ammo on set — ever

Aposhian said never take anyone’s word that a weapon is not armed. He also said the industry standard is never have live ammunition on a movie set.

“On a movie set, there’s no reason to have live ammunition . . . even in scenes where you’re showing the actual cartridges, the rounds and they’re loading them into the firearm. You use inert ammunition for that; you do not allow live ammo,” Aposhian said.

In the “Rust” case, said Donaldson, the armorer told the assistant director that the firearm was a cold gun, and that the assistant director yelled, “cold gun.”

“So the weapon handler who is supposed to be the expert on the set is supposed to hand it directly — no go-between — to the actor,” Aposhain said.

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For a movie like “Rust,” Aposhian said, a single-action revolver, which is a 19th-century firearm, would be likely be used. 

“You have to open a loading gate and check each of the six chambers one by one, as opposed to a more modern double-action revolver [where] you just swing the whole cylinder right out,” Aposhian said.

The firearm checking process by the weapons handler has to be performed every time the weapon is transferred from person to person on the set, he said.

Aposhian said when the movie production crew is in a hurry, the first protocol that is cut, is safety.

“They’re always behind schedule, and they’re trying to hurry these things along,” he added.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Fatal mistake on movie set was live ammo, says Utah gun expert