is it time to ban guns from movie sets?

I was a huge fan of actor Brandon Lee.  Although he was the sidekick in the movie “Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991), I thought he stole the whole movie.  It seemed like others did too because just one year later he was the lead in the movie “Rapid Fire” (1992).  Although the storyline of that movie was a little generic, he was great.  I actually got his autograph (although I didn’t meet him in person – I bought it) and I remember that I couldn’t wait to see his next movie which I had read would be different than the usual action movie.

However, on the set of his next movie “The Crow” a bullet fragment accidentally shot from a prop gun hit him.  He later died in surgery.  I was really upset when I heard the news, but not as upset as his family and his fiancée.  His family sued the filmmakers for an undisclosed amount and ever since then – in a couple months it will be 30 years since his death on March 30, 1993 – his family and several others have been urging filmmakers for more on set safety and to stop using real guns and bullets on filming sets.

While there have been more gun safety protocols put into place since his death, many productions sometimes still use real guns.  28 years later, another accident occurred on the set of a movie called “Rust”.  Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that – according to reports – had at least one real bullet accidentally put into it.  The live bullet killed director of photography Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Sousa.

Right after the shooting, Eliza Hutton – Brandon Lees fiancée at the time of his death – told People magazine “My heart aches again now for Halyna Hutchins’ husband and son, and for all those left in the wake of this avoidable tragedy.  I urge those in positions to make change to consider alternatives to real guns on sets.”  Brandon Lee’s sister Shannon Lee also commented “On behalf of my brother’s legacy.  Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust.’ No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”  I completely agree with them.  Now that you can fairly easily add or remove a gun from a scene in a movie or TV show – they removed the guns for the re-release of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” – there really isn’t any reason to continue to use real guns.

One of the reasons that people give for continuing to use real guns and real ammo on movie sets is because “it looks more realistic”, but I have a response to that excuse.  They didn’t use real lasers or real lightsabers for the movies set “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, but I haven’t heard anyone saying those don’t look realistic.  In fact, there are collectors who will pay a lot of money for the fake items used in those movies. 

Even if the movie or TV show is supposed to be realistic, there are still things that can be used that look like real guns and they can add the gunfire using special effects or visual effects during postproduction.  It’s as easy as adding a white frame according to the movie “The Fabelmans”.  I would agree that they can use COMPLETELY EMPTY guns (not even blanks loaded in it) or use guns that cannot fire at all for any close-up shots of guns, but for any shot where a gun is pointed at someone – even if it’s pointed at the camera like the scene in “Rust” – or where it looks like a gun is being fired it should NEVER be a real gun or a prop gun that can shoot anything.  If the gun is fake or can’t fire, it’s essentially harmless so they won’t need to spend extra money for a gun expert or for training for anyone handling a prop gun (including actors).

I understand that accidents happen.  If something dangerous is in the shot – such as the helicopter that killed Vic Morrow and two child actors on the set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” in 1982 or the train that killed second assistant camerawoman Sarah Jones on the set of “Midnight Rider” in 2014 – it could make any possible accident deadly.  So, whenever possible it’s better to remove any dangerous things from a set.  You can’t add a fake helicopter or a fake train on a movie set pr om postproduction (unless you have a REALLY BIG visual effects budget) but you can easily fake a gun.

Occasionally I still look at that Brandon Lee autograph and remember him.  I’ve even been to his grave, right next to his father Bruce Lee.  At first, I was against them completing and releasing his final movie “The Crow”, I saw the movie and thought he was great in it.  I think he could have been a big star.  Maybe even bigger than his father.  If only they had more safety protocols on that set or used a fake gun.