‘Gun rules must be strictly followed’: Utah filmmakers on notice following fatal on set shooting in New Mexico

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Protocols need to be followed strictly when guns are used in movies former says Salt Lake City Police officer, movie set expert, and technical director Rob Joseph. This is after an assistant director unknowingly handed a loaded prop gun to Alec Baldwin.

Joseph has been on movie sets for decades and says gun safety is critical, taking special note of Brandon Lee’s death by a prop gun on the set of “The Crow” in 1993 and now the death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust.”

Joseph tells ABC4 there needs to be zero tolerance for playfulness around guns, especially since the golden rule of guns is that a person should always consider them loaded. Two or three people must check all guns on set to see whether they have live bullets or blanks inside.

He also explains the process of gun safety. Prop masters or armorers are the only ones who should directly handle guns and provide them to the talent. He recalled that procedure when he was working on set during a production.

“They would say ‘Guns on set’ and the property master would call for me and I would come out on set,” said Joseph. “He’d bring the guns, I’d inspect the guns and I would clear them as hot or cold.”

“Hot” or “cold” means the gun is either loaded or not loaded, with “hot” being loaded and “cold” being not loaded. The prop master or armorer will then take the gun to the actor or actress for them to use on set. Once the scene is over, they immediately take the gun back and properly store it.

On the set of “Rust,” an armorer was handling the guns, but it was the assistant director who gave the loaded gun to Baldwin. Joseph said rules are in place for a reason in the film industry and they need to be followed strictly to prevent what happened to Hutchins and director Joel Souza, who sustained an injury during the incident.

Joseph explained that sometimes live or real guns are used on set instead of prop guns. He said it can be extremely difficult to show the weight and recoil that a gun may have and that the sound and firing of the gun aren’t the same when a prop gun is used.

According to Joseph, prop guns can still be extremely dangerous since there is gunpowder and some paper involved to help set a spark. He also said the issue with “Rust” is not about Baldwin but about how proper procedures weren’t followed.

“Everybody is going to try to point blame, but really there is a protocol that wasn’t followed and even basically if you did not have a two-person check protocol, the only person who should be handing a gun on a movie set is the property master,” said Joseph.

The Utah Film Commission said more than 1000 movies have been filmed in Utah. Before production can begin, film companies must file the proper permits to film in certain locations along with the permit to shoot a firearm. Joseph says in the interest of common courtesy, it’s always best to let law enforcement know that guns will be used and that gunshots will be going off.

Joseph’s advice to productions using guns is to make sure blanks and bullets are separated. He said this practice is critical to ensure no gun is ever loaded until it’s actually time to shoot the scene. 

Joseph said it’s very unlikely Bladwin will face criminal charges and added the production company will ultimately be liable for Hutchins’ death.

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