Guns Are Death Machines — Especially On Movie Sets

Having physically produced a few movies and plenty of TV shows — having been intricately involved in the safety protocols whenever you bring danger to a set (fire gags are even scarier than gunplay) — what happened last week on the set of “Rust” hits me where I live. Storytelling is incredibly important to the world (that’s why it’s worth so much money to so many people) but how we make storytelling should never be harmful to the people making it. Creating make-believe for others’ enjoyment should never hurt people (let along kill them). There are protocols! If you follow them — to the letter — nothing bad will happen. No one on your crew will get hurt or die. It’s that simple. But guns make people stupid. Those who handle them often get cavalier. They think of themselves as “responsible gun owners”. In their hearts, I do believe, “responsible gun owners” really do aspire to never hurt anyone with their firearm. But, the very real truth is (and that truth keeps getting proven!) there’s no such thing as “responsible gun ownership”. It’s one of those things that one is until suddenly, one isn’t.

Nancy Lanza — mother of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter — believed herself a “responsible gun owner” right up to the moment her son shot her to death with one of her own legally purchased, fully licensed guns. So much for HER being a “responsible gun owner”. But that is the problem when human beings assume powers they don’t have and justify behaviors they’ll never live up to. Consider the misery, unhappiness and utter destruction Nancy Lanza caused all those families who didn’t even know she existed. Just because she wasn’t quite the “responsible gun owner” she assured herself and everyone else she was.

Guns are death machines. That’s a fact. They are designed from the ground up to send a piece of metal flying at speed into a living target so as to kill it. They’re not designed to sit in gun lockers. Though it’s a safer place for a gun to be than out in the open, the gun’s designers never looked at their creation from that perspective. Why would they? It’s like trying to assess a baseball bat’s usefulness as a broom. The only way to truly measure one’s “responsible-ness” as a gun owner is to take it out of its gun locker and into the world where it CAN be used per its design specs to kill living things.

Now, a responsible gun owner has something real to measure their responsibility against instead of that unarmed straw man living inside their gun locker.

From the very first narrative film ever made (Edwin Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” made in 1903), guns have been part of the storytelling.

In the film’s coda, Porter put the above sequence where the movie’s villain fired his gun directly at camera. While a modern audience is used to seeing things like that (having seen it a kajillion times), when Porter first did it, it shocked his audiences. Many ducked out of harm’s way or screamed in genuine fear.

Didn’t take long though for movie audiences to adore gun violence on film because watching it put them in the middle of something they had never experienced before (and might never in their real lives) in a way that was dramatic, visceral and emotionally compelling. Moviemaking made gun violence essential to its storytelling. And dangerous to it, too.

TMZ is now reporting that members of the “Rust” crew used the gun that killed cinemaphotographer Halyna Hutchins for “target practice” in between shots. That’s insane. That’s utterly insane! But, the fact that it happened reflects so much about our whole culture’s cavalier attitude toward guns. To the crew, that gun was a “pretend death machine” one moment then a real one the next and then (it was supposed to be) a pretend death machine again when the filming re-started. Too bad no one thought about that. But, they didn’t. No one on the crew who’d used the gun to shoot real bullets apparently bothered to check — when they were done PLAYING WITH THE GUN (which is insane that they were) before sending it back to the set where it would be used with actors.

This suggests why there could have been a live round in the prop gun First AD Dave Halls personally handed to actor (and one of the film’s titular producers) Alec Baldwin for a camera rehearsal.

When Baldwin — just going through the scene — pointed the gun at camera and pulled the trigger, he expected nothing to happen (except an empty click because the gun’s chambers were supposedly “cold” or empty. The gun, prior to that moment should always have been under the control of the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Though Reed has something of an armorer’s “pedigree” (her dad is veteran armorer Thell Reed), and despite the shock some co-workers expressed, Reed was guilty of earlier failures to adequately do her job.

On a previous job, “The Old Way”, two production sources claim, Gutierrez-Reed ‘once gave an 11-year-old actress a gun without checking it’: The sources said “she was seen loading blanks in an ‘unsafe’ fashion and that she was ‘green and inexperienced’ on set”.

People getting badly hurt or killed on movie sets is a rare, rare exception as it should be. That it happens at all is unacceptable. Still, when you consider the staggering amount of gun play and gun violence that moviemakers have produced over time, it’s just a fact that the overwhelming majority of that gun violence was done (relatively) safely. We’d have heard otherwise. How we normally depict guns is absolutely safe.

And maybe that’s the problem. If there were way more gun-related deaths on America’s movie and TV sets, we (probably) would have done something about it. The fact that we’ve tamed most make-believe representations has delivered a false sense of security — that most guns are actually “make believe” and therefore harmless. Heroes regularly take multiple hits without dying or even being as incapacitated as real gunshot wounds would make them. Somehow extreme blood loss and almost no blood pressure doesn’t effect movie characters.

America’s love affair with guns didn’t start at the movies but movies sure knew how to kick that love into outright adoration.

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