A tragic mix: Hollywood weapons and Alec Baldwin

Caroline Hendrix, Senior Writer

When actions can be taken to prevent accidents that could cost someone their life, they should be. Horrifying and shocking news of the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by gunshot on set of the film “Rust” only reaffirms and strengthens this message. The use of dischargeable, functional (and therefore potentially lethal) weapons on film sets in this digital age is dangerous and unnecessary. 

According to CNN, the fatal gunshot was a result of film producer and actor Alec Baldwin practicing a seated cross draw on set, pulling his weapon from the holster positioned on the opposite side of the body. The gun was said to have fired off during an attempt at this maneuver, with the prop gun (which was supposed to be empty) releasing a projectile and mortally wounding Hutchins. Comprehensive safety protocols, designed to prevent precisely these kinds of accidents from happening, were likely dismissed or overlooked in the process of production. According to the New York Times, under normal filming conditions a crew leader reminds the cast that the firearm is not a “toy,” and that real consequences ensue from their use on-set. They additionally address the actors and crew before the scene with a safety speech. It is currently unknown as to what safety protocols were enforced on the “Rust” set last week, but I cannot fathom that any protocol would allow an actor to practice with a real firearm before a scene – or point and discharge it at a person in the process.

An analysis by the Washington Post includes a tweet from director Craig Zobel, who condemned the use of loaded guns on sets where special effects and editing can create the illusion of real weapons without the danger of those weapons in the hands of seemingly inexperienced people. An actor may seem like a professional in their character’s trade on-screen, and it can be easy to forget that most actors, including Alec Baldwin, are not actually accustomed or qualified to handle actual weapons. The Post further explains that the weapons used in this film are especially dangerous due to the lack of gas restrictors in the barrels of weapons from this time period. 

In my research, I found that real weapons are commonly used on film sets with a generally very low risk of related injury. Despite the risk of injury being low, the consequences of a single accident are grave. Loaded guns, or real guns in general, should never again be used on set. We live in a time where computer software can provide a realistic duplication of a weapon and the sounds that it makes. While New York Times writer Brooks Barnes argues that it can be difficult to reproduce the “weight and recall of a real gun” and that “some actors have a hard time faking it,” and others have noted the high cost of editing – especially in the case of “Rust” which is apparently on a “shoestring budget” – that cost is nothing compared to the loss of a life. There is no financial cost or acting difficulties that can justify this incident, and future filmmakers should take into account the consequences of being too realistic without the proper budget in place to ensure that safety protocols are enforced. 

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