‘Rust’ Fallout: New Mexico Bill Would Require Film Crews to Pass Hunter Safety Course

by Matthew Memrick

A New Mexico bill wants to make film workers pass a hunter safety course if firearms after October’s “Rust” fatal shooting.

Variety reported that a Republican representative introduced the measure. The law comes 103 days after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died on the set of the “Rust” film.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell told an interviewer the proposal aims to heighten job site safety standards with guns. There’s no indication it has enough support to pass by Feb. 17, the final day the New Mexico legislature is in session.

“A lot of the people in these movies haven’t grown up around firearms like I have,” Pritle told Variety.

‘Rust’ Shooting Sending Shockwaves Through Film Industry

Actor Alec Baldwin fired the fatal bullet on the “Rust” set that October day, thinking the gun was “cold” or loaded with blanks. Santa Fe County Sheriff investigators are still determining how a live bullet got on the set.

Afterward, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called for new film safety standards. If the film industry failed to take the initiative, she said her state would take action.

Before the shooting, the state did not have film armorers or prop gun handlers requirements. Additionally, there’s no firearms training class specifically for the film industry in that state.

What does New Mexico have? Hunters younger than 18 must take a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish-guided course. The course covers essential hunting and shooting skills in a 100-page workbook. There are also sections on the anatomy of wild mammals and fowl and tips on the best places to target animals for clean kills.

Pirtle, who said he recently took the course with his 10-year-old son, said the course is for a beginner/novice mix. But the primary purpose is about handling firearms safely. 

The bill would make all film production company employees take the firearms course with tough penalties over violations. State tax credit withdrawal for a year could come with each offense.

Film Industry Not Thrilled With Bill

One film veteran said the bill’s passing would send production to other states.

Albuquerque veteran film armorer Scott Rasmussen said he took the course when he was younger, and it does not translate to the film industry. He also said that training should only stick with armorers, those that handle the prop guns on set.

Rasmussen said Pirtle did not think the bill through, stating that film workers often come for a short time. Requiring film workers to go to New Mexico early to take the course isn’t sustainable.

In California, prop workers in the IATSE Local 44 union must take an introductory firearms course, but it does not cover any film armorer duties. One California lawmaker introduced a bill recently that would mandate a firearms course for armorers and anyone within close distance of set firearms. 

The California and New Mexico bills do not ban real guns. But the “Rust” shooting prompted many shows to ditch real guns on the set. Film armorers don’t like the gun ban idea and still lobby for the use of blanks in a safe manner.