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Other View: Ban guns from movie sets to prevent next 'Rust'

From the editorial: "Attempts to legislate better protections on sets fizzled. ... That’s unfortunate, and it returns the responsibility to the makers of films and TV shows."

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Marian Kamensky / Cagle Cartoons
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More than a year after the shocking fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the movie “Rust,” prosecutors announced Thursday that they will file criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter against Alec Baldwin, the star of the movie who allegedly discharged the replica of a vintage Colt .45.

They will file the same charges against the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, whose job it was to check the guns to make sure they were safe to handle. The gunshot also wounded director Joel Souza, who survived, but no charges are being filed in connection with that.

From the column: "I can’t help feeling that this could be one of those moments in which we‘re looking for a culprit to punish, just to satisfy our craving for justice."

“On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice,” New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said.

We certainly agree and want the court system to decide the matter fairly. But whatever the legal outcome of events on that afternoon in 2021, during a rehearsal in which Baldwin pointed a gun in the direction of Hutchins, this was a tragedy that should never happen again.

The low-budget, 21-day film shoot was beset by problems — complaints from the crew about working conditions, a walkout by half a dozen camera-crew members in protest, and at least two accidental prop gun discharges earlier in the filming, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. We already know that many things went wrong on that set the day of the shooting. Gutierrez Reed, who was juggling responsibilities as armorer and a props assistant, has said she checked the gun that day but not right before the rehearsal.

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According to Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office documents, the film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, who was also the safety director on the set, handed the gun to Baldwin and said it was “cold,” meaning it contained no live ammunition. That would turn out to be fatally wrong. The gun contained at least one live round — forbidden on sets — mixed in with dummy rounds, which contain no gunpowder. Halls reached a plea deal with prosecutors to accept a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.

The point is that no one has to use any kind of gun on a movie or TV set. Even though accidental shootings like this are thankfully rare, too many things have to go right so that nothing goes horribly wrong. “Under the best circumstances, mistakes can be made, props that purposely look identical to each other can get mixed up, and the necessary handling of these props can cause malfunction,” says Spencer Parsons, associate professor and head of production at Northwestern University in the School of Communication’s Department of Radio/Television/Film.

Attempts to legislate better protections on sets fizzled in the California Legislature last spring. That’s unfortunate, and it returns the responsibility to the makers of films and TV shows. Why can’t Hollywood screen wizards create the effects of firearms without having to use even prop guns with dummy rounds? If they can make an actress look like “M3GAN,” an AI doll that’s terrifying moviegoers in droves, why can’t they simulate a firearm discharge — and the recoil that the shooter experiences — without having a real weapon on set?

These are issues that directors and writers should be seriously addressing. Let’s eliminate the possibility that actors or crew members could get shot on a set.

— Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

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