Fatal Rust shooting opens debate about 'acceptable amount of risk'

In the wake of Halyna Hutchins’ death on the set of the movie Rust, the debate about Hollywood’s use of firearms has reignited like never before.

October 21 saw actor Alec Baldwin, 63, discharge a gun loaded with a live round and accidentally killing the 42-year-old cinematographer and injuring director Joel Souza, 48.

As petitions calling for the use of prop guns and functional firearms to be permanently banned from future productions, experts have weighed in on the proposed changes.

Military technical adviser for film and TV, Paul Biddiss, argues that the use of guns can be properly managed without incidents similar to the Rust set shooting.

Sharing his reaction to the petitions, he told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s not necessary. Look at the accident record in the UK. When proper procedures crew background checks and proper licensing is practiced, the system works.’

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons from Bare Arms – a company that advises filmmakers on using firearms on sets – said he could understand why people would want to make a change to help avoid any more accidents happening in the future.

‘It is entirely reasonable for people to want to call a permanent stop to the use of real firearms on set,’ he stated. ‘It would make films and television less realistic, but that alone is not worth someone losing their life for.’

However, he agreed with Biddiss and highlighted how many productions get made without issues each year as he continued: ‘On the other side of the discussion, 1000s of guns are used safely on set every week around the world. This kind of incident is down to human factors and ignoring protocol, but when those incidents involve firearms, it usually means that the outcome is very serious.

‘People are hurt and occasionally killed on set by vehicles or stunts, but few would argue that should lead to a ban on vehicles on set. These incidents are very rare, because the vast majority of people work very hard to ensure that firearms are used safely.’

‘There is a broader discussion about what is an acceptable amount of risk, in order to make entertainment,’ he added.

The pair agree that the focus on experience and training on all members of the crew would help ensure accidents like Hutchins’ death could be avoided in the future.

Simmons explained: ‘Most armourers in the UK are employees of a handful of independent companies. The company establishes whether or not individuals are up to their standards.

‘It’s such a small and niche area of expertise, that an independent body/organisation would need to be run by those people it was governing. It might be very difficult to find people who were impartial.’

He continued: ‘In this instance, once the cause of the incident is established, productions and armourers should ensure that their processes and procedures still stand up. It is likely that the steps that are already in place are still valid, but additional steps could be introduced to reduce risk even further.’

However the industry does decide to move forward, both experts stated that those working with firearms in their profession would adapt to any rules put in place.

‘We would have to adapt to the needs of the industry. If the industry no longer want to use real weapons then there would still be a lot of use for those with a knowledge of weapons, in order to recreate them on screen in other ways,’ Simmons stated.

Biddiss added: ‘Armourers are there to provide guidance on well-established safety protocols be it blank or non-firing.

‘I am sure that when anyone studies the UK’s safety record with firearms they would not wish to ban them just as they would not call for a ban on stunts performing dangerous car chases after there’s has been a serious accident.’

Baldwin served as producer of Rust while also starring in the film, but production on the film has been suspended and he said it’s unlikely to resume. 

No charges have been filed in the case, as police continue to investigate the events leading up to Hutchins’ death. 

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