Alec Baldwin Incident Sparks Debate About Firearm Use on Set

Christian Pensa, Reporter

Depiction of firearms and their use have been staples of film since the inception of film itself. However, a recent incident on the set of Rust, an upcoming western film written and directed by Joel Souza, has many notable names in the industry discussing what the future of prop weapon usage on film and television sets should look like. On October 21st, during filming of the now-suspended production, actor Alec Baldwin accidentally fired a live round of ammunition, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding writer/director Joel Souza. The actor, known for his work in The Departed (2006), It’s Complicated (2009), and The Cooler (2003), spoke about the incident in an ABC interview released on December 3rd. He said, “The trigger wasn’t pulled, I didn’t pull the trigger, ” and referring to himself and Hutchins, “We both assumed the gun was empty.”

This is the third incident in nearly a century of an on-set death involving prop guns in the United States. The first was on October 12th, 1984, during filming of an episode of Cover Up (1984). Actor Jon-Erik Hexum was shot by a gun loaded with a blank at close proximity, resulting in massive brain hemorrhaging. Six days later, after undergoing five hours of surgery, he was declared brain-dead. The second occurred during filming of  The Crow (1994), in which Brandon Lee was shot in the abdomen with an improperly-made blank round, which had been constructed from live ammunition. 

Currently, there is no definitive legislation allowing or prohibiting the use of real firearms for these productions. The topic is being heavily debated among some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Baldwin weighed in on Twitter, saying that, “Every film/TV set that uses guns, fake or otherwise, should have a police officer on set, hired by the production, to specifically monitor weapons safety.” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in an interview with Variety, spoke about the future of his production company, Seven Bucks Productions, and how they plan on handling the issue going forward. “Any movie, any television show, or anything we do or produce – we won’t use real guns at all,” he said. “We’re not going to worry about the dollars, we won’t worry about what it costs.”

Conversely, prop master Gary Tuers, who has worked on The Fate of the Furious (2017), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), and Miami Vice (2006), gave his perspective in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. He suggested that the incident could have been avoided if the producers hadn’t been “unwilling to hire competent people following our long established and tested firearms safety procedures,” referring to 24-year-old Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who had only had a single head armorer credit prior to her work on the film. He said, “To have live rounds on a film set is the No. 1 no-no in our business – so, literally the No. 1 rule in all of Hollywood was broken.”

Director Ridley Scott, known for Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), and The Martian (2015), added to the argument as well. “No live round should ever be near a set – if you’re doing target practice at lunchtime, somebody should get fired.”

This discussion is one that will inevitably continue for years to come. With a conflict between the ultra-realism provided by real weapons and the safety concerns that come along with them, no one in the industry can say for sure what decisions should be made moving forward. Despite these differing viewpoints, it seems that everyone involved in the discussion is hoping for the safety of cast and crew members above all else, and for a tragedy like the one that happened during filming of Rust to never happen again.