A collective of leading movie armorers and weapons masters is calling demands to ban real firearms on film sets after the fatal “Rust” shooting “misguided,” stating that the incident was a result of the disregard for safety measures and failure to hire “well-trained professionals.”
In a statement made on Tuesday, the group offered their condolences to the family and friends of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed during the rehearsal of a scene on Oct. 21 when a firearm held by Alec Baldwin discharged a projectile. As armorers and weapons masters, the group made clear that “the safety of the actors and all crew members is our highest priority” and offered statistics about firearm deaths on film sets.
“Industry records establish that there have been a total of three (3) firearm deaths on film sets since 1984. Of those three, two took place outside of California and with nonunion or inexperienced crews,” the statement said. “The last firearms death that took place on a studio/union film was Jon-Erik Hexum in 1984. From 1993 (the year of the Brandon Lee tragedy) to 2021 there were no firearms fatalities on any set in the United States or Canada. You will not find a related high-risk industry with a better safety record.”
The statement continues: “Firearms usage on sets, despite its high profile, represents an incredibly small percentage of on-set fatalities despite being considered a high-risk component of film production. We attribute this exceptional overall safety record to the professionalism and skill level of those On-Set Armorers and Weapons Masters that handle firearms on the vast majority of film productions in the United States and Canada.”
The collective then pointed to the recent IATSE strike authorization and “Rust” shooting as being the result of the same industry-wide issue. “Crews are overworked, undertrained, under-supported, and there is an industry wide unwillingness to pay crews in a manner commensurate with their experience and cost of living,” the group said.
The armorers and weapons masters contended that rather than banning the use of firearms on sets, crew members in charge of these firearms must be vetted correctly and follow all of the established safety procedures. In a new search warrant filed on Wednesday, “Rust’s” armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, told investigators that live ammunition was not used on the set. However, in a press conference earlier that day, Sheriff Adan Mendoza said that multiple live rounds were possibly recovered from the scene, in addition to the one that killed Hutchins and injured Souza. Assistant director David Halls also admitted that he did not adequately check the firearm given to Baldwin for live rounds.
“As On-Set Armorers and Weapons Masters we see that the incident was completely preventable and should not have occurred, given the longstanding and well-established safety regimen that we work under and implement every day in our industry,” they said. “The incident was caused, in part, by producers who were unwilling to hire competent people following our long established and tested firearms safety procedures.”
As a result, the group hopes that the incident will put a renewed focus on the necessity of hiring an experienced crew that is properly trained to follow the correct protocols surrounding weapons — instead of banning the use of real firearms altogether.
“There is no substitute for the reliability and production value that a real firearm brings to a film or television project under the supervision of a properly trained On-Set Armorer or Weapons Master,” the statement reads. “In the wake of this tragedy there have been several calls to substitute other options in place of real firearms on set. This quick response is misguided and does not reflect an understanding of the industry, creative expectations, and decades spent refining safe on-screen simulated gunfire. The phenomenal firearms safety record that professional film crews have achieved is the result of consistent education with a relentless focus on safety and responsibility.”
The message ended with, “A single project’s refusal to recognize established safety protocols compounded by that project’s failure to utilize well trained professionals should not require changing the entire movie industry. Instead, it should put renewed focus on time-tested procedures and the importance of hiring professionals versed in proper on-set firearms safety protocols.”