RUST, Lust, & Guns

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

There’s a lot being said about the accidental shooting on the movie set of Rust two weeks ago. There’s angry rhetoric, and calls for banning all functional firearms from film (and I imagine television) production. This is not surprising to me as there is always a vocal group that wants to ban something, and firearms are a very emotionally charged something that the opponents and proponents of are pretty much polarised against each other over.

In my opinion, this shooting never should have happened. I am not alone in that I know, but I may be in a minority for why I say it should never have happened. It all comes down to two things: Education, and Personal responsibility.

There has been much discussion since this tragedy occurred about who is responsible on set for the firearm, and ensuring the condition, and safety of the weapon. And the consensus on this in all the news stories I’ve read about this over the last week and a half has been the Armourer/Prop Master (Yes I spell it with a u, I use Canadian/UK English. Deal with it) Everyone interviewed in relation to this accident has pretty much agreed on that. The Armourer is the one in charge of all firearms/weapons on a film set. Or the Prop master if it is a smaller production/amount of firearms not needing a specialist, and the Prop Master is properly licensed.

That’s simple right? it’s all down to whomever that person in that role is. The buck stops with them.

Except it doesn’t, and that way of thinking is wrong, and it’s why Halyna Hutchins lost her life. It’s why Brandon Lee lost his life on the set of his film The Crow in 1993.

If you ask a properly educated firearms owner the question of: “who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of a firearm?” The answer you’re going to get is: “the person carrying the firearm.” And it’s as simple as that.

The problem that occurred on the Rust set is that the person carrying the firearm, and ultimately responsible for it’s safety, did not follow the basic rules of firearm safety. These rules are basic for all firearms in any situation, all the time! but they weren’t followed that day on set, and it’s even more tragic because if they had been Halyna Hutchins would still be alive.

It’s 4 simple rules:

  1. Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded (Assume it is loaded)
  2. Never point the firearm at anything you don’t intend to destroy
  3. Keep your finger clear of the trigger/trigger guard until you are ready to shoot
  4. Be certain of your target, and what is behind it.

Not hard to remember them, which is the point. And if the film industry forced those rules to be followed on sets with firearms every time, every day people wouldn’t get accidentally shot.

“Well wait a minute,” you might say, “All the film folks being interviewed about this have said they do follow those rules!”

Yes they do say that, but here’s the thing that I’ve been hearing and reading over and over from those experts in film, that the firearm is checked and the condition confirmed by the Armourer, and that condition is announced to the set as well as the actor the firearm is being given to. ‘Hot Gun’ for a weapon loaded with blank rounds (no bullet, just primer and powder for the bang and flash) or ‘Cold Gun’ for a firearm either loaded with Dummy rounds (replica ammunition with no primer or powder, essentially inert rounds) or empty chambers/magazine.

I’ve heard the comment each time it seems, that the actor “is welcome to check the weapon themselves if they choose to…” as well as the comments from a few of the Armourers being interviewed that they “build a relationship of trust with the actors so they don’t feel the need to double check the condition of the firearm.”

And there’s the problem. The actor should be checking the firearm they’ve been handed. They’re the one carrying it. All actors required to use firearms in a role in which they are cast should be educated on proper firearms safety and responsibility. Anything else is a failure to protect themselves and their co-workers.

Anything less is an abdication of personal responsibility.

Now I don’t know to what level Alec Baldwin is educated on the handling and use of firearms. He’s used them here and there in some of his film roles, but the events of two weeks ago tell me that he either isn’t properly educated about firearms, or he needs a refresher.

Regardless, he was told it was a cold-gun, an unloaded firearm, and he trusted that was true.

So I’m not piling on Alec Baldwin for this. It’s not solely his fault, even if he did pull the trigger. He has to live with this tragedy for the rest of his life. He won’t ever be able to forget what happened, and I feel for him. You can goddamned bet that he wishes he had done things differently. I won’t push the blame all on him.

Because the film industry as a whole is at fault for not properly educating their performers in firearms safety. It should be an inescapable mandate, that all studios, and production companies are subject to:

If you are having Actors using firearms in your production, they must be certified in the safe handling and use of the firearm.

It’s not hard, and it wouldn’t be onerous. Basic firearms safety and handling training takes two days of classroom education. It’s the requirement for a firearms license up here in Canada, It’s a one day course for long arms (rifles and shotguns) and a two day course if you want to be licensed for handguns (which are restricted up here). Typically dumbasses don’t pass the courses.

In this case, where someone lost their life in a tragic accident, all that needs to be done to avoid this in the future is to make sure your actors are trained, and responsible.

Hell Hollywood, you can even hire me to run your training program. I’m licensed. Your folks would have to come up here to Canada for the training though.

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Shawn Horley

Shawn Horley

If I don’t write it down I’ll probably just explode.