California State Senator Backs Off From On-Set Gun Ban Following Industry Pushback

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  • Dave Cortese
    American politician in California (born 1956)
  • Halyna Hutchins
    Ukrainian-American cinematographer and investigative journalist

After Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the set of “Rust” in October, California State Sen. Dave Cortese proposed banning firearms on film sets.

But now Cortese has backed off from that idea after getting pushback from the entertainment industry.

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Cortese introduced a bill last week that would impose credentialing requirements on production armorers and would limit the use of live ammunition to certain reality TV shows, such as those featuring hunting or shooting competitions. But the bill stops short of banning all functional guns — including blank-firing weapons — from film and TV sets.

“My preference would have been if we could not use blanks at all in any kind of production,” Cortese said in an interview. But in recent weeks he got a clear message from film armorers: “We have to have blanks.”

“They convinced me,” Cortese said. “That was pretty much a universal concern.”

On Oct. 21, Alec Baldwin accidentally fired a Colt .45 revolver that he believed had been loaded with dummy rounds, striking cinematographer Hutchins and director Joel Souza, on a set near Santa Fe, N.M. Hutchins was killed and Souza was taken to the hospital with a wound to his shoulder. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department continues to investigate the incident and no charges have been filed.

The investigation has focused, in part, on Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the 24-year-old armorer who loaded the weapon and who was working her second job on a film production. Investigators are also seeking to determine how live rounds became mixed with the dummy rounds on set.

The incident has sparked an industrywide examination of gun safety practices. In the aftermath, several high profile Hollywood figures said that they would no longer use real guns on set, instead opting for rubber guns. Such guns do not recoil or have a muzzle flash, but actors can simulate the recoil and the flash can be added in post-production.

Several armorers pushed back on proposals to ban real guns outright, saying it was a knee-jerk reaction.

“I think our safety record speaks for itself,” said Gary Tuers of Xtreme Props and Weapons Rentals. “If you hire a professional to do the job, we’re really good at it. When a production company goes to another state and hires on the cheap, that’s where they have problems.”

As it stands, there is almost no regulation of film and TV armorers. In California, they must possess an entertainment firearms permit, but that amounts to nothing more than a background check, and does not require demonstrated proficiency in the use of firearms.

Cortese’s bill, SB 831, would allow the use of blank-firing guns under the control of qualified armorers or prop masters. To be qualified, an armorer would have to have a certificate of completion of a labor-management firearms safety course. Armorers and prop personnel who are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are already required to complete such a course, which is a fairly basic introduction to firearms safety.

“The non-union guys have to be held to the same standards as the union guys,” Cortese said.

The bill would also require that any worker “in proximity to the use of firearms on set” would also have to complete the firearms safety course, which goes beyond the current union requirements. In addition, the bill would mandate that Cal/OSHA adopt gun safety standards for film sets, which would mirror the gun safety bulletins issued by the joint labor-management safety committee. That would create civil penalties for violating the safety bulletins, which are now just voluntary guidelines.

IATSE officials did not respond to a request for comment on the bill, but Cortese said that the union leadership is “pretty comfortable with where we’re at.”

“They want to see this codified into law,” he said.

But Mike Tristano, a veteran armorer, said he did not think the proposed regulations make much sense.

“Why are me or any of my guys going to need to take a class from some idiot that I can run rings around?” he asked. “Everything in this state is feel-good legislation… Having this piece of paper doesn’t mean jack.”

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