January 30, 2023

AUSTIN, Texas – The tragic shooting death on the set of the western film ‘Rust’ has prompted an Austin lawmaker to introduce a bill that would require firearms training for certain films and films that intend to use guns.

Rep. Sheryl Cole, D-Austin, introduced House Bill 1471 that would require any film or television project that accepts federal funding to require anyone handing out a gun to complete the state’s Hunter Education course. Administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this six-hour course covers firearm and hunter safety and ethical hunting practices.

what you need to know

  • A shooting accident on a western film in New Mexico ended in the death of a cinematographer on the film
  • Rep. Sheryl Cole has introduced a bill to prevent a similar tragedy in Texas
  • Cole’s bill would require Texas firearms training for films or television shows receiving Texas film incentives
  • Film and television equipment safety is often governed by industry standards

“What happened on the set of the ‘Rust’ film in Santa Fe, New Mexico over a year ago was an unimaginable tragedy that resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins,” Cole said in an announcement of her bill. “As time went on, it became clear that there were many avoidable missteps that caused this to happen and it became critical that we ensure that this doesn’t happen in Texas.”

The Santa Fe County District Attorney is expected to file two counts of involuntary manslaughter against Alec Baldwin, who serves as both actor and producer on Rust. Charges are also being brought against the film’s armorer. Production of the film continues with security guards on set and no firearms.

Tony Armer has been in office as Dallas Film Commissioner for a little over a month. Before that, he was both a film commissioner and film director in Florida. He has directed sets that have used firearms and he believes filming the Rust set was avoidable.

“I have personal experience of working on soundsets as a director and using firearms on a set,” said Armer. “The whole thing, as everyone knows, was obviously a very, very avoidable tragedy.”

Most sets have multiple layers of accountability to avoid security incidents, firearms or other things, Armer said. Much of this is regulated by the industry itself.

Sets that use firearms have a gunsmith who checks the guns before they reach the actor and first assistant director. In addition, film assignments — like the one Armer worked on before coming to Dallas — often required extra security requirements on set.

“In the St. Pete-Clearwater-Tampa Bay area — where I was a commissioner before this job in Dallas — we would require that anyone who had firearms on set, even if the guns were unloaded, had to have a police officer on Set, also on duty,” said Armer. “On a short I did there (as a director) – even when we were using blank guns – we showed the gun to the cop before we even shot the scene.”

These are the extra precautions that can minimize a potential on-set tragedy like Rust’s, Armer said. The biggest flaw on the “Rust” set was that they had live rounds on set, ostensibly to shoot at targets, when the actors weren’t filming scenes.

“Why there were live rounds anywhere near a film set is intriguing,” Armer said. “From what I’ve read they were out somewhere, you know, shooting at targets or something. That should never be. Mixing live rounds there gives you the opportunity for something like that to happen.”

Conservative lawmakers have attempted to zero out film incentives in previous state budgets. Still, Texas is attractive to many filmmakers, be it the television series Dallas in the 1980s, or Walker, Texas Ranger in the 1990s, or Friday Night Lights in the 2000s.

Recent productions in the Dallas area include “Bass Reeves,” a production starring Dennis Quaid and David Oyelowo and directed by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. Also directed by Sheridan, 1883 was filmed in the area and ended after one season.

Armer also points to “The Chosen,” a first-ever multi-season series about the life of Jesus. The show has a massive following, is fully crowdsourced and is free to stream live. The show is produced by Angel Studios, who have crowdfunded several faith-based productions.

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