The fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins is prompting calls to ban real guns from sets

Oct 24, 2021
Originally published on October 25, 2021 1:28 pm

Mourners gathered at a vigil on Saturday to remember cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed in an accidental shooting on the set of the film Rust last week.

Alec Baldwin was given a prop gun which he was told was safe before firing it, killing Hutchins, 42, and wounding director Joel Souza. Baldwin is cooperating with investigators.

Souza, who has since been released from the hospital, told NBC that his thoughts were with Hutchins' family. "She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better," Souza said, according to the statement.

Hutchins' husband, Matt, tweeted that the loss was "enormous," adding that "Halyna inspired us all with her passion and vision, and her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words."

The accidental shooting was not the first gun death on a film or TV set, but it has refocused attention on how firearms can be used safely by the entertainment industry — and also raised the question of whether they should be banned outright.

Experts say there are safe ways to handle guns on set, but implementation varies

Crew members on the set of Rust reportedly raised safety concerns about the production prior to the shooting, though it's still unclear how Hutchins was shot.

Although there are ways to simulate gunfire in TV and films without using real guns, some filmmakers continue to use live weapons to make the drama appear more real, according to Dan Leonard, associate dean of Chapman University's film school.

"There are many [filmmakers] now that don't use real weapons and do it all in post [production]," Leonard told Weekend Edition Sunday. "Then there are filmmakers that want the sort of realism and the reaction" created by using real guns.

Still, even when live guns are used during productions, Leonard says there are simple safety precautions that can help avoid accidental shootings.

For one, there is never any reason for live ammunition to be on set.

Also, Leonard says, filmmakers can adjust the angle of certain shots so that there aren't people in the line of fire. And if a scene calls for an actor to point a gun at the camera, for example, the filmmaker could use a prop gun and a computer-generated flash for that scene.

According to the Associated Press, states provide scant guidelines about the use of real firearms on film sets and safety standards are often set by unions. Leonard said there should be an industry-wide safety standard for the use of real guns.

"Right now it's sort of left up to the industry to police. The big studios have the budgets and use qualified personnel," he said. "But particularly in independent filmmaking, they're trying to make things in the least expensive way possible, and oftentimes not all the procedures that are put in place for safety have been followed"

Leonard said that it can be disruptive when crew members change, as has been reported on the set of Rust following a walk-out by several crew members upset about the working conditions of the production.

"But in the case of gun safety ... only two people should ever touch the weapon. One is the weapons handler and the other is the actor," he added. "And each should double check that it's empty."

Others say it's time to ban real guns from film and TV

Some in the film and TV industry said that Hutchins' death shows that barring the use of actual firearms on sets is long overdue.

ABC's police drama The Rookie banned real guns on set as of Friday, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Eric Kripke, the showrunner behind Amazon Prime's The Boys, tweeted a pledge in response to Hutchins' shooting: "no more guns with blanks on any of my sets ever. We'll use VFX muzzle flashes. Who's with me?"

Other industry insiders noted that it was possible to move away from real guns on screen.

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

A petition on change.org to ban the use of real guns in the film industry had gotten more than 17,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon, and a California state senator said he would introduce legislation to ban actual firearms from movie sets and theatrical productions in that state.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Why are actors using real guns on movie sets? The cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed last week when Alec Baldwin fired a gun that he was reportedly told was cold - or unloaded. Here's NPR's Joe Hernandez.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: When Bryan W. Carpenter walks onto a film or TV set, he's got one overriding thought in mind.

BRYAN W CARPENTER: Safety is never redundant.

HERNANDEZ: Carpenter is what's known in the entertainment industry as an armorer. He's the guy who is responsible for any firearms onset, making sure they're safe to use. To him, that means even a quick examination between takes just to be sure the gun hasn't broken or changed in any way.

CARPENTER: And I try to do it fast and effective because I will work with production as much as possible. And you learn this after, you know, years of doing this. But - and everybody's like, why did you just check that again? I was like, I'm going to check it each and every time.

HERNANDEZ: Carpenter also works with the director and crew to make sure the scenes involving guns are filmed in a safe way. For example, one actor isn't supposed to point a gun at another even if it's loaded with blanks. Carpenter, who also does actual firearms training, says he's even got different vehicles for his film and TV jobs.

CARPENTER: Because I don't even want a random round to be stuck in between a seat or fall into a bag or anything of that nature.

HERNANDEZ: Still, with real guns on sets, there's always a risk. The entertainment world lacks a national safety standard for guns, says Dan Leonard, associate dean of Chapman University's film school. Leonard told Weekend Edition Sunday that larger studios have the budgets and qualified staff to handle guns properly.

DAN LEONARD: But particularly, in independent filmmaking, they're trying to make things in the least expensive way as possible. And oftentimes, not all the procedures that are put in place for safety have been followed.

HERNANDEZ: And the reason filmmakers use actual guns at all? Realism.

LEONARD: There are many now that don't use real weapons, that do it all in post. And then there are filmmakers that want the sort of realism and the reaction of the live.

HERNANDEZ: But that may be changing after Hutchins' death. The ABC police drama "The Rookie" told staff on Friday that it would stop using real guns on set, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Another showrunner tweeted a pledge to only use special effects muzzle flashes going forward. An online petition to ban guns from Hollywood already has thousands of signatures. So while some are calling for stricter standards, others say the only way to avoid another death is to remove real guns from sets altogether.

Joe Hernandez, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "THE WORKERS OF ART") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.