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Editorial: Lawmakers punted on gun-safety rules for film sets. Now Hollywood must come up with a plan

The set of "Rust" at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M.
The “Rust” movie set outside of Santa Fe, where a prop firearm discharged by veteran actor Alec Baldwin killed the film’s director of photography and injured the director in October.
(Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Last year’s tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was shot by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the movie “Rust,” rightly prompted the film industry and public policymakers to reexamine safety procedures on productions involving firearms.

In theory, the accident could have been an opportunity for the various factions in Hollywood to come together on a solution to ensure greater safety on film sets. Instead, labor unions and movie studios each got in their corners and threw their political muscle behind rival proposals in the state Legislature.

The unions backed a bill that would require film productions to hire a designated set safety supervisor and provide training for cast or crew members who are near firearms on the set. Their bill also would impose penalties on productions that have safety violations. The studios got behind legislation that would put existing film industry safety guidelines into state law and task the state fire marshal with developing a firearms safety course for workers on movie sets.

State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, has announced he’ll push legislation to ban not only live ammunition but workable guns from film sets in California.

The whole thing blew up last week when state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) effectively scuttled both bills by bottling them up in the Senate Appropriations Committee that he leads. He said he believes the move will force unions and studios to come together on a compromise that could be passed before the legislative year ends on Aug. 31. But it’s also possible that by scuttling the bills, nothing further will happen this year to advance stronger safety rules.

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It would be a shame if the Legislature punted responsibility on this important issue. The state that is home to Hollywood has a responsibility to ensure that film sets are safe workplaces by leading the nation in developing smart gun-safety rules.

The governor of New Mexico, where “Rust” was being filmed, has said she’s evaluating her state’s firearms regulations for film sets, but she called on the film industry to come up with industrywide safety practices.

Since California lawmakers have been unwilling so far to take on the hard work of balancing the industry’s need for flexibility with workers’ safety, it’s now up to the studios and the unions to find common ground. They absolutely should try to reach a deal. And if they don’t, lawmakers must reconsider their hands-off approach.

No one should have to fear being shot to death while on the job.


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