Ever since the death of Jon-Eric Hexum on a TV set in 1984, gun safety has been a top priority in film and television productions. It has to be: when you think of the number of times a firearm is discharged on the dozens of cop shows or action movies, it is a wonder that there have not been more fatalities.
The death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding of director Joel Souza on the New Mexico set of “Rust” has re-opened the examination of gun safety. Reports suggest actor/producer Alec Baldwin was rehearsing drawing his weapon from what was said to be a “cold” or unloaded prop gun. It was discharged and a terrible accident ensued.
Back in 2012, the producers of the short-lived Showcase police series King invited reporters to their Toronto set to take part in a target range demonstration. Actors Amy Price-Francis and Alan Van Sprang were on hand for the instructional demo.
I was invited to the south Etobicoke set along with fellow critic Rob Salem, then with The Toronto Star. A makeshift firing range was set up in a loading dock. Three ammo experts, Charles Taylor, Russ Cook and Paul Wassill, schooled us on how to fire a gun properly.
This trio from Movie Armaments Group in Toronto were all ex-cops. Taylor reminded us all about Hexum, who tragically took his own life on the set of the CBS series Cover Up. Between takes, he held a gun which still contained one blank, up to his temple and pulled the trigger. The force of air from the gun alone can bore a hole right through you. Even if he had survived, his eardrums likely would have been blown out. Hexum was taken straight to a hospital but was declared brain dead and expired six days later.
That warning got everybody’s attention on the set of King. Hexum’s death literally changed how guns are handled on TV and movie sets. There are always experts around whenever firearms are used now.
The above video captures some key moments of the prop gun tutorial. As someone who is not familiar at all with firing guns, I can tell you the instructions were all taken very seriously. Even with ear and eye shields, the guns are very loud when fired. Hitting targets was fun, but the experience was a little intimidating and I haven’t been to a gun range since.
Taylor stressed to us all that “every firearm should be considered loaded at all times.” In that way, he said, “you will always be safe with it and you won’t point it anyone you don’t intend to hurt.”
Accidents can happen, but the procedures I observed on that day made me feel that King was a safe and very professionally supervised place of work. Would that the same have held true for the people involved with “Rust.”