Here at SOFREP, the Special Operations Report written by military veterans, we instantly mistrusted initial reports about the on-set tragedy in which actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer.
They reported that a “prop” gun, held by Baldwin while rehearsing a scene, “misfired” and “accidentally” killed Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza — as if it were a weird, freak accident that no one could have predicted.
In fact, the term “misfire” refers to a defect in the primer at the back of the bullet casing that generally prevents the detonation of the powder charge that expels the bullet from the barrel. A “misfire” does not result in a gun firing but the opposite: it doesn’t fire at all.
Secondly, it isn’t an “accident” when you point a loaded handgun at someone and pull the trigger. In real life, it’s assault with a deadly weapon to intentionally point a firearm at someone, loaded or not. In the context of a movie, it’s irresponsible and negligent.
We also reacted to the word “prop” being used to describe the firearm itself. To us — and to most people, I’d guess — a prop is a rubber, wood, or even metal representation of a firearm but is not an actual, functioning weapon that is capable of firing real ammunition that can maim or kill. A prop-gun is a realistic-looking toy that movies use to play make-believe for the camera. If a Bengal tiger had been on the movie set and mauled two people, one of them fatally, would anyone call it a “prop tiger”?
In just a matter of days, contradictory details emerged. The gun wasn’t a toy but an actual firearm. The police have seized some 500 rounds of various types of ammunition from the set including blanks, dummy rounds, and live ammunition. At least three people appear to have handled the pistol before it was fired, including the armorer hired to safely handle these weapons, an assistant director, and Baldwin himself. This means there were three chances to make sure the firearm was not loaded with live ammunition.
As far as we know, the film’s 24-year-old head armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, had no special training or licenses to ensure she was qualified (beyond whatever she may have been taught by her father, a well-known Hollywood armorer). By contrast, if animals are used in a movie, the set is closely supervised by an American Humane Society Certified Animal Safety Representative who oversees the treatment of the animals. Movie companies get their scripts approved by the AHS in advance and they sign off on the credentials of any animal handlers assigned to the film, which often include veterinarians. In exchange for following these practices, producers are permitted by AHS to say in the credits, “No animals were harmed in the production of this film.”
So while Hollywood is very serious about the safe handling of animals on the set and the safety of the crew around those animals, this is not the case with guns. There are guidelines covering basic rules of safety issued by studios on how to treat firearms. Under the “Safety on the Set” category for Warner Brothers Studios website, they even type them all in capital letters so you know they really mean business.
- TREAT ALL FIREARMS AS THOUGH THEY ARE LOADED.
- DO NOT ENGAGE IN HORSEPLAY WITH ANY FIREARMS OR WEAPONS.
- NEVER POINT A FIREARM AT ANYONE, INCLUDING YOURSELF, AND IF CALLED UPON TO DO SO, CONSULT THE PROPERTY MASTER.
- WHENEVER POSSIBLE, SIMULATED OR DUMMY WEAPONS SHOULD BE UTILIZED.
- LIVE AMMUNITION IS NOT TO BE BROUGHT ONTO A STUDIO LOT, STAGE OR LOCATION.
There is such a thing as a “Licensed Armorer” for movie companies but that license comes from their union, not any state agency or organization specifically engaged in firearms safety training.
For an industry with a liberal reputation, Hollywood has a surprisingly cozy relationship with the firearms industry. Gun makers don’t have to woo Hollywood because Hollywood goes to them to ask for real guns to use in movies. The right gun in a movie can create icons, like the Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum that Dirty Harry carried. This revolver isn’t a very good firearm: it’s huge and unwieldy; it packs a ferocious recoil and it holds only six bullets. It’s essentially a novelty gun built around the .44 Magnum handgun cartridge, once the most powerful handgun round in the world. It still sells pretty well because it is immediately recognized as “the Dirty Harry gun.” We all remember John Rambo firing an M-60 machine gun; John McClain in Die Hard with his Beretta 92FS and MP5; James Bond’s Walther PPK; and of course, John Wayne’s Colt Single Action and his Winchester 92.
Guns and the violence they represent are big businesses in Hollywood.
A 2015 report published by The Economist concluded that gun violence in PG-13 movies had tripled since 1985. The Hollywood Reporter found that the number of different models and types of guns seen in movies increased 51 percent in just the five years spanning 2010 to 2015.
The movies have changed as well. Once upon a time, the villain would be killed in the climactic scene with a single bullet fired by the hero. Hollywood actually seemed to respect what a loaded firearm was and what it meant to the future of the characters. Now the violence is beyond extreme. Hollywood loves to make blood-drenched movies about heroes engaging in mass murder, almost always with firearms. How many movies have we seen with the lead character seeking revenge against the mob, the Russians, or a cartel because they killed his family and almost killed him? The bad guys only had to kill John Wick’s dog for him to go on a killing spree. Wick killed seventy-seven people on screen in an hour and forty-one minutes. Over a dog. There have been four John Wick movies just like this. And movie bad guys don’t die from a single gunshot anymore: they have to be blown to smithereens.
Given the fortunes being made in Hollywood with guns and the gun makers themselves profiting along with them, why doesn’t the movie business take a serious approach to firearms safety within its own industry?
Politics and hypocrisy. Alec Baldwin is a long-time opponent of gun possession by the average citizen. Most recently he signed his name to an open letter by an organization calling itself the “No Rifle Association” or “NoRA.” Its stated purpose is to end the National Rifle Association as an organization. The letter states: “We’re for moving culture into a less violent place by counteracting the influence of NRA money in the American political system.”
So, Hollywood is going to move the culture into a less violent place by countering the NRA in politics? Maybe that could be the plot for John Wick V or the 7th Jason Bourne movie.
Hollywood stars and producers need gun control as badly as they claim the rest of us do. In fact, though they politically can’t or won’t admit it, they need the NRA.
The Baldwin shooting appears to have been not an isolated mistake but a series of acts that flouted the most basic safety rules of firearms handling. Taking the same serious approach to guns as to animal safety, Hollywood should require armorers working in the entertainment business to be NRA Certified Range Safety Officers. That is not an easy credential to obtain. You must first demonstrate proficiency as an NRA Firearms Instructor before you can work to become a Range Safety Officer.
Whether movie-industry liberals like it or not, NRA officers are the recognized experts in firearms safety in this county. An NRA-trained Range Safety Officer certification is pretty much a requirement to work on a firing range, whether public or private, because the insurance company insuring the range for liability requires it. NRA instructors provide virtually all the training for concealed carry permits in states that allow it. The NRA does the bulk of firearms training for the nation’s police officers as well.
The Range Safety Officer ought to be the standard for the entertainment industry to let anyone on the set with firearms. Anyone working for the armorer should be an NRA firearms Instructor at minimum. They should also be licensed by the state in which the production is filmed and carry special liability insurance as a requirement to do this kind of work. The state where a movie is shot should also require an RSO on the set, and that Safety Officer should have the ability to close a movie down if there is any failure to comply with safe handling procedures.
This most recent movie-set shooting highlights the firearms safety problems that Hollywood executives’ own politics prevents them from solving. The industry should stop playing make-believe with the lives of its own community and work with the NRA to ensure gun control on the set.
This article was originally published on Newsweek.