What Is A Prop Gun?

Following the tragic news that actor Alec Baldwin accidentally killed a crew member on the set of "Rust," many movie-goers are wondering how a prop gun could have inflicted so much damage. The answer is that a lot of prop guns are closer to the real deal than most people realize. 

According to USA Today, the term prop gun can refer to multiple types of items — including rubber or toy guns. However, it is also not unusual for the term to mean a real pistol that is simply loaded with blank ammunition. 

For a basic primer to understand what that means, all functional guns have four components for firing a bullet: the casing (which is also known as a shell), the propellant (generally gunpowder), a firing pin, and the bullet itself. 

Many prop guns contain the first three of those four components — i.e., everything except the bullet itself. According to Gizmodo, the bullet is often replaced with a less dangerous object, such as a wad of paper or wood.

Though the paper or soft wood wouldn't cause a lot of damage when hitting someone from a distance, it can cause serious injury and death if fired close to a person because the force from the gunpowder is so strong. 

In fact, the spray from the gunpowder alone can kill a person because of its strength, which sadly happened in the case of actor Jon-Erik Hexum on the set of the 1984 television series, "Cover Up," according to Newsweek

Prop guns often contain more gunpowder than actual guns

Scarily enough, prop guns often contain more gunpowder than real guns, which helps explain how the force from a shot can be so powerful. This is because gunpowder is responsible for the loud bang, recoil, and muzzle flash — all things that make for a great scene. The more gunpowder, the greater the effect.

According to the BBC, most people on set treat the prop like they would a normal weapon in light of such dangers. Yet, that doesn't always stop tragedies from happening, as in the case of Brandon Lee.

"You never point a gun, even if it is not a firing gun, at anyone else. I'm at a loss how this could have happened and how it could have done that much damage," said Mike Tristano, an armorer who has previously worked with Baldwin, to the BBC.

In scenes where an actor appears to fire directly into the camera, special security precautions are taken. For example, the number of crew members behind the camera is kept to a minimum. They also wear face masks and stand behind a Perspex screen.

However, many who work in the industry have noted that the safety measures are not enough. Moreover, some have pointed out that the rise of special effects can mimic a real gunshot without the risks on set.

"There's no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore. Should just be fully outlawed," tweeted Craig Zobel, of "Westworld" and "Mare of Easttown" fame. He added, "The gunshots on Mare of Easttown are all digital. You can probably tell, but who cares? It's an unnecessary risk."