TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — What appears to be a tragic accident in New Mexico is making international headlines after actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of his movie Rust, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring the film’s director.
Tucson and southern Arizona are no stranger to westerns, and see plenty of actors re-enacting Wild West gunfights.
“I was deeply saddened by that,” said Jerry Woods, who owns the ‘Pistoleros Wild West Show’ at Tucson’s Trail Dust Town and has acted in the show for more than 20 years. “We all think about our own safety, we all think about ‘Well, are we doing everything we can?’”
Woods knows the risks involved in re-creating wild west gunfights for a live audience.
“We try to impress upon everyone who works for us that the guns that we use can kill, and so they have to be very careful with them,” he said.
The Pistoleros actors use "blank rounds," which still involve an ignition inside the gun that fire projectiles. Those projectiles are objects like unburnt powder or wadding, not bullets, but are still fired with a lot of pressure.
“And at close range, they can do significant damage,” Woods said. “At point blank range, they can actually kill.”
Before each "Pistoleros" show, the actors sign out a gun. A designated crew member watches those guns when they are on set.
The actors here hold a variety of fake guns, including replicas and rubber guns that do not fire. But the "prop guns" that actually fire are real guns.
“They’re easier to maintain than blank-firing only guns,” Woods explained. “Blank-firing guns can be dangerous, too, if used improperly.”
Woods says the real guns carry less risk of a dangerous malfunction, in part because they are easier to clean and ensure no debris gets into the gun.
Actors closely check their gun and their blank rounds before each show.
“We never point them at each other, we never point them ever at the audience,” Woods said. “We off-shoot when we shoot them. So that means that I never actually directly point it at you. I point it like 15 or 20 degrees off.”
In the industry; however, accidents do happen.
In 2015, an actor in a gunfight re-enactment in Tombstone accidentally fired live rounds instead of blanks—injuring another actor.
Woods knows incidents like that or the tragedy in New Mexico are rare—but possible.
“You can’t overthink it because then you can’t do your job,” he said. “So, you just fall back on your training. Your training and your muscle memories, by rote.”
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