Is Hollywood So Obsessed With Covid Safety That They’re Neglecting Gun Safety On Set?

When firearm safety is thrown out the window, as it certainly was on the set of “Rust,” you’re almost guaranteed injury and fatalities.

By Luna Salinas4 min read
Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” Production Covid Safety Gun Safety Alamy

While production sets in Hollywood are intent on following stringent guidelines in the interest of saving even one life from Covid-19, why did that respect for life and safety disappear when it came to firearms on the set of Rust?

4 Rules of Firearm Safety

The primary rules of firearm safety are as follows:

1. Treat All Guns As Though They’re Loaded

If this rule is respected and followed, the other rules follow suit. It helps establish a sense of wariness and safety when handling a firearm. Are you okay with killing or maiming a friend or colleague? Then don’t point a gun at them, even if it’s not loaded with no bullet in the chamber, not even in jest.

2. Always Keep the Firearm Pointed in a Safe Direction

This follows the first rule very closely. If you treat your gun as if it’s always loaded, you’ll never aim it at something unless you want to shoot it. This entails being aware of your surroundings. You wouldn’t want to shoot through a mirror or at a surface the bullet could ricochet off.

Treat all guns as if they are loaded.

3. Keep Your Finger off the Trigger Until You’re Ready To Shoot

You should always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re certain you want to shoot. Even if you’re at the gun range while facing a target, you can’t keep your finger idly on the trigger. If you train like this, you risk doing this behavior in a high-stress situation where you may be nervous and jumpy, and maybe pull the trigger at a time when you don’t mean to.

4. Always Be Sure of Your Target and What’s Beyond It

Before shooting a gun, you need to be aware of what it’s going to hit, what it can hit beyond your intended target, and what you can hit should you miss. A bullet can ricochet and hit something you don’t intend to hit, and no matter what, you are responsible for what’s fired from your gun. That sense of gravity and seriousness is pivotal for safe gun handling.

Who’s To Blame for What Happened on the Set of Rust?

Let’s discern what happened on the set of Rust. If you examine the situation closely, it’s a small circle of culpable individuals: the set’s armorer, 24-year-old Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, had laid out three guns on a cart, when assistant director Dave Halls grabbed a revolver and handed it to Alec Baldwin. Halls then yelled “Cold gun!” on set, indicating that the revolver had no live rounds. That’s three people immediately culpable.

Gutierrez-Reed should have stopped the assistant director and verified the gun was truly cold: ideally, right before he grabbed the gun. If she, for whatever reason, wasn’t present to observe the firearms she laid out, then it was on Halls to verify the gun was truly cold before handing it over to the actor. Finally, Baldwin should have also verified the gun was safe, especially before aiming it at anything. Ideally, no one would have been in the line of fire, so it was a huge safety oversight to allow cinematographer Halyna Hutchins to be right in front of Baldwin as he fired the gun, and director Joel Souza should not have been directly behind a camera that’s in the way.

Three people failed to practice proper gun safety on set, resulting in a tragic death.

In this instance, no firearm safety was practiced. It seems as though it was all thrown out the window, or like the crew was entirely unaware of it. As a result, Halyna Hutchins tragically was killed and Souza was injured.

What’s astonishing about the situation is that Alec Baldwin has expressed fervent anti-gun sentiments in the past, including in 2017 while commenting on a deadly police shooting in Huntington Beach, California. You would think a man who is so staunchly against firearms and gun violence would act carefully around a firearm. And yet, he so confidently aimed the gun at a person and fired. Like it was no big deal.

Issues with the Armorer

On a higher level, there were a number of failures during the production of Rust. The inexperienced production team in charge of hiring staff brought on Gutierrez-Reed (the daughter of prominent Hollywood armorer Thell Reed), whose behavior on her prior film certainly warranted some questioning, perhaps even selecting someone with more experience. 

On the last film she worked on as head armorer, The Old Way, Gutierrez-Reed allegedly handed an 11-year-old actress an unchecked gun, forcing other crew members to intervene. One source said, “She was a bit careless with the guns, waving it around every now and again. There were a couple times she was loading the blanks and doing it in a fashion that we thought was unsafe. She was reloading the gun on the ground, where there were pebbles and stuff. We didn’t see her check it.”

Gutierrez-Reed herself actually admitted to not being ready for the job as head armorer on the set of The Old Way: “You know, I was really nervous about it at first, and I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready…but, doing it, like, it went really smoothly.”

Both the armorer and the assistant director had a tarnished reputation of working with guns on set.

Looking at it high-level, the production crew didn’t care to hire someone who had a long track record of exhibiting safety and competence. Or, if Gutierrez-Reed did practice safety, as she claims, the production crew possibly overruled that. A statement from Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys says that safety was a top priority for Gutierrez-Reed and that being hired for two positions (head armorer and assistant prop master) made it difficult for her to focus on her job as armorer. She’d reportedly fought for training, days to maintain weapons, and proper time to prepare for scenes with gunfire. In spite of this, Gutierrez-Reed “ultimately was overruled by production and her department.”

Issues with the Assistant Director

Adding to the questionability of the production team’s competence, assistant director Dave Halls was also previously ”removed from set” while working on a past film, following a prop gun discharge.

A producer on Halls' previous film, Freedom’s Path, said that during production in 2019 “a crewmember incurred a minor and temporary injury when a gun was unexpectedly discharged.” After the prop gun incident, Dave Halls was fired and the production continued without him.

Covid-19: More Dangerous Than Guns?

Since Covid-19 gained pandemic status, workplaces and industries that revolve around close interaction with other people have established rules and protocols around how to interact with others, in the interest of keeping others safe from sickness. It was touted as being completely worth it, if you could save even just one life.

Such protocols were extensive, with pages upon pages of detail. A joint report from the unions DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and Teamsters’ Committees on Covid-19 safety guidelines details a number of procedures and rules to be respected on set and while filming, all to avoid contraction and spread of Covid-19 as much as they possibly can. It’s 32 pages, not including acknowledgments of consultants on the report. That’s 32 pages of detailed protocol and rules to follow, in several scenarios and cases.

Over 10% of the budget goes to Covid safety, so there’s less money for hiring experienced crew members.

Furthermore, the cost of following these Covid safety protocols eats into the production budget. 10% to 15% of the budget – even as much as 22% on some projects – goes toward Covid related expenses, which means there’s less money for other aspects of production, like hiring experienced crew members.

It appears as though film productions value Covid-19 safety more than anything else.

Closing Thoughts

Alec Baldwin said the accident was “one-in-a-trillion,” despite accidents accounting for at least 1% of gun-related deaths in the U.S. Maybe if guns were taken seriously and respected by everyone, including those who claim to oppose them, yet utilize them in the production of a film, we could reduce the rate of accidents, including those on a movie set. 

While concerns for health can include safety against Covid-19, it’s not the only thing that people need to be worried about. Acting like firearms aren’t a big deal is a huge misstep if your objective is achieving a completely safe working environment that includes the use of them.

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