Gun Safety Protocols Largely Unchanged as Film Industry Waits for ‘Rust’ Investigation Results

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
February 27, 2022Updated: February 27, 2022

The movie industry is still waiting for the results of the investigation into last year’s fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the New Mexico set of actor Alec Baldwin’s film “Rust.” The investigation could lead to a change in gun safety protocols on movie sets.

An active investigation into the shooting at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe continues four months after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office spokesman told The Epoch Times.

A state investigation into the incident may take a couple more months to complete.

“The New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has six months from the date of the incident to issue any citation for violations and any citation would be a public record after we issue it,” Department Spokesman Matthew Maez told The Epoch Times. “We’re still in the middle of our investigation.”

The cinematographer was shot and director Joel Souza was wounded on Oct. 21 by a live bullet from a gun held by actor and producer Alec Baldwin.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents about 160,000 actors, models, singers, and others in the industry, sent The Epoch Times a statement issued in October, saying the union is working with productions and others to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said. “We will continue to work with production, the other unions and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”

Safety protocols for films include industry standards that union members and movie companies agree on before starting production.

Several “Rust” crew members and Hutchins’ husband claim some safety standards were not met during the film’s production. A few crew members walked off the set to protest the working conditions on the low-budget western.

After the incident, workers reported that gun inspections and other safety protocols were not strictly followed.

In mid-January, Baldwin, 63, turned his cell phone over to authorities in New York’s Suffolk County in response to a search warrant issued one month earlier by Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in New Mexico.

Suffolk County authorities are expected to gather the phone’s information and send it to New Mexico. The Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department has not yet received the contents.

“I do not have a timeline as to when it is going to be available as it is with another agency,” Athena Martinez of the sheriff’s office told The Epoch Times on Feb. 22 in response to a records request.

The shooting spurred some leaders to call for changes in policy and production practices, similar to the industry’s reaction following the shooting death of actor Brandon Lee during the filming of “The Crow” in 1993.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in October she expected the film and television industry to provide new safety protocols when the investigation concluded.

If that did not happen, Lujan Grisham said the state would take immediate action to ensure the safety of all personnel on all sets. The state’s legislature, which just ended its yearly session, did not pass a proposed gun safety bill for film employees this year.

“This industry is important to us economically and to so many workers throughout New Mexico, and I look forward to a full accounting of how this could have possibly happened, and we will determine our next steps from there,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Meanwhile, New Mexico continues to be a popular location for film production.

“The pipeline is still really deep,” New Mexico State Film Office Spokesperson Jennifer Esquivel told The Epoch Times. “We’re going to have a really busy year in 2022.”

The “Rust” shooting was “a sort of isolated incident related to their production and processes,” Esquivel said.

New Mexico also has multi-year commitments from Netflix and NBC Universal to produce films and continue production operations.

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