Calls for banning real guns on production sets pour in after US cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed by a prop gun on the set of Western film ‘Rust’.

An online petition to ban real guns from the set of TV and movie productions has gathered over 100,000 signatures.

The Change.org appeal was created by filmmaker and author Bandar Albuliwi, in response to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins last month.

US actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed Hutchins, 42, with a loaded gun on the set of Western film Rust.

The incident has sparked an outcry for stricter safety protocols and better work conditions for cast and crew in the film production industry.

In his petition, Albuliw said the incident should never have happened and that Hollywood should have learned from the 1993 death of Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee.

Lee was killed on the set of The Crow when he was fatally struck by a piece of cartridge that had been accidentally lodged in a prop gun’s barrel.

“Hollywood hasn’t changed in 30 years. This speaks volumes about our industry because, in this event, this only got attention because it involved an A-list actor like Alec Baldwin,” Albuliw said.

The Crow’s Australian director, Alex Proyas, echoed this sentiment in a Facebook post after Hutchin’s death, saying “real guns should have been banned” after what happened on his film’s set.

“Ban functioning guns on movie sets now! I’ll add my voice to the chorus, in the hope this time something might change,” he said. 

READ MORE: Alec Baldwin fires prop gun killing woman on film set

‘Hot gun, cold gun'

According to court submissions, Rust’s assistant director, Dave Halls, handed Baldwin the gun after mistakenly indicating it was unloaded, calling it a "cold gun."

It said Baldwin had the weapon pointed at the camera when the bullet struck Hutchins and also injured director Joel Souza.

The gun had a “lead projectile” inside, and was therefore considered “a live round, a bullet,” said Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza according to the NYT.

Mendoza’s office is currently investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, California state senator Dave Cortese and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham have both said they plan to introduce legislation to officially ban real firearms and live ammunition from all productions.

Prominent actors and filmmakers in the entertainment industry have also taken a stance against firearm usage.

Actors such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and filmmakers, such as Craig Zobel, Eric Kripke and Alexi Hawley, have taken pledges against use of real guns or firing of blanks on their sets.

ABC’s cop drama “The Rookie” also banned real firearms, and a Theatre of Arts school in Hollywood has now made prop-gun safety training a mandatory course.

Strict safety protocols 

Some filmmakers called the Rust tragedy a rare occurrence, as they pointed to rigorous safety measures in place for guns on set.

Firearms safety specialist Dave Brown said if real guns are handled correctly they are “as safe as any other prop” in an opinion piece for CNN

"After 30 years of working with firearms in the film industry, I've learned one very important lesson: When handled responsibly, firearms are as safe as any other prop on a film set," wrote Brown.

“Live ammunition, without question, is never allowed on set,” he added.

Each firearm used in a production is managed and monitored by a specialist, or armorer, known as a weapons master.

According to The Actors’ Equity Association’s safety tips, “all loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.”

Rust's armorer was Hannah Reed-Gutierrez, 24, according to Indie Wire, and reports said the gun that killed Hutchins had been unattended for hours.

If real guns are used, production safety protocols say they must be loaded with blanks, which are cartridge cases with no bullets inside. 

"Any film industry armourer is handling real guns that become prop guns only by virtue of the fact that they’re loaded with blank cartridges on set," says journalist Tristin Hopper in the National Post.

He warns that these blanks are far from harmless as they still retain “the ability to be loaded with live ammunition and used conventionally.”

One such lethal case occurred in1984 when US actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after jokingly shooting a blank cartridge into his head, and breaking his skull from the force of the explosion.

More recently in 2017, stuntman Johann Ofner was shot and killed by a blank fired from a prop shotgun, during the filming of a hip-hop music video in Brisbane, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

Other safety guidelines include training cast members in firearm safety, such as never pointing a gun towards anyone, and using plexiglass to protect crew members in firing range.

Also, nowadays special effects are useful to add gunfire in post-production, but it can be very expensive for productions compared to using props.

Those in favour of using real guns on set argue it is to get an authentic reaction from an actor and a more realistic shot.

Authenticity at what cost?

Blanks “add authenticity to productions - fire a blank using a prop gun and you'll get a loud bang, a recoil and what's known as a muzzle flash, the visible light created by the combustion of the powder," explains The BBC.

Filmmakers Christopher Gist and Sarah Mayberry said they chose to shoot with real weapons using blanks and visual effects “because of the importance of the weapon to the storytelling in that scene.”

“We needed the reflections on the actor’s face to be real, her physical response to be real,” they wrote in The Conversation.

However, cinematographer Bill Dill, condemned this reasoning, in an opinion piece for NBC news.

"I’ve heard it said that directors like to use real firearms on set because they lend authenticity to a movie. Some say they use real guns because they like to see the flinching reaction to the loud bang of the gun. Yes, but at what cost?" said Dill. 

The Los Angeles Times editorial board also said post-production special effects should replace real firearms and gunshot sounds.

“Since guns pose such a profound danger,” it said “it’s time for Hollywood to voluntarily stop using real guns — no matter how modified they may be.”

Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison agreed in an Instagram Story post, saying “no shot, no scene, and no movie is worth the loss of life”.

Dangerous work environments

According to the Los Angeles Times, who interviewed 14 crew members of Rust, the film set had many reports of unsafe working conditions.

The report described the conditions on set as “chaotic” citing three “accidental discharges” ahead of the fatal shooting that took Hutchin’s life.

Hutchin’s cinematography teacher Dill said the “real responsibility” for her death “lies with the culture of callous disregard for the safety of people for whom a movie set is more than a workplace.”

"It’s become clear to me that the public doesn’t understand how dangerous motion picture sets are. I’ve seen several articles describing how rare it is for someone to get shot on a movie set. 

“That’s a pretty low bar for workplace safety. How many people have been shot in your office?” wrote Dill.

Dill pointed out that aside from gun safety, there are many “consequences of the harsh working conditions on set."

“For the people who work on movie sets, it’s not just a credit. It’s not a sale. For them, it’s a dream. The very least we owe them is a safe place to work,” he said.

READ MORE: US gun violence epidemic is a plague with no vaccine

Source: TRTWorld and agencies