Two bills aimed at restricting firearms and ammunition on movie sets in California were held on Thursday before a Senate Appropriations Committee vote, causing both bills to fail to pass this session.
One of the bills, Senate Bill 831, authored by Senator David Cortese (D-San Jose) would prohibit weapons from firing blank ammunition in movie productions unless the armorer or prop master in charge has completed a firearms safety course and has a certificate for handling firearms. International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) members are already required to take this course. The bill aims to disallow unqualified armorers, such as on the movie set of Rust, which contributed to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm during the film shoot in New Mexico.
Live ammunition would also be banned, but would allow it for certain productions, such as reality shows that require live ammunition being used, as long as the safety and firearm training rules are followed. Security guards and law enforcement officials would also be exempt from this rule.
The other bill, Senate Bill 829, authored by Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), would only allow blanks on movie sets under the supervision of an armorer with no other duties on set but to firearms and firearm safety. Under SB 829, the state Fire Marshall would have to come up with a safety course by 2023 for proper firearms and blank ammunition usage, with new restrictions in 2024 barring any armorer from sets that hasn’t completed the course.
A similar online course for those working near or with the weapons would also be required by 2024. Civil penalties would be given out for any and all violations.
Following the introduction of both bills earlier this year, with both spurred by the accidental Rust set shooting in last year, they were immediately challenged by those in the film industry and were heavily amended. SB 831, for example, originally had a total firearms ban in the bill, but relented after pressure from the film industry, allowing blank and live ammunition to be used in certain situations.
In the past several months both bills have been passed through several Senate committees, with the only votes against them coming from Republicans concerned with firearms limitations and the harm that this could do to movie shoots. However, industry pressure kept up, and many lawmakers and those in the industry for more firearms limitations on movie sets started becoming concerned with two separate bills moving up that did not reach a consensus on what to do and instead proposed two different things.
Specifically, it came down to SB 831 having the support of unions such as SAG-AFTRA and IATSE, and SB 829 having the support of the Motion Picture Association. Movie studios and executives disliked the possibility of being limited on how to film movies through firearm use, while the unions balked at more permits and red tape being required for the crew to perform their duties.
Both bills held from Appropriations vote
With no consensus, and many in the industry still opposed to the bills, Senator Portantino held both bills on Thursday before the Senate Appropriations vote.
“Set safety is an extremely important issue for the craft and guild women and men who make our productions and for the State of California,” said Senator Portantino on Thursday. “I strongly encouraged broad entertainment interests to work collaboratively to bring forward a consensus approach to address any issues that might have been highlighted in the wake of the Rust tragedy. I was extremely disappointed when they collectively failed to meet the challenge I laid out. Rather than draft a unilateral solution, I decided it’s best to reiterate the challenge by holding both non consensus bills in committee. Should there be an agreement forthcoming, I’d be willing and eager to entertain it before the end of the legislative session.”
Senator Cortese put the blame on the failure to pass the bills on the industry as a whole on Thursday, noting, “It’s a powerful and ruthless industry. First the industry killed Halyna. Then they killed the bill that would’ve made people like her safe. Despite setbacks, I’m committed to real reforms that will protect our workers.”
Many of those in the industry had a more mixed reaction to the bills not passing forward on Thursday.
“We need some more safety checks in place after what happened there, but it’s upsetting that everyone couldn’t agree on how to do it,” Allen Miller, an assistant armorer who has been a part of movie productions for the last two decades, explained to the Globe. “Instead of working together they instead delayed a new law, maybe indefinitely. And the thing is, we need a law in place that essentially says that the person handling weapons can do so in a safe manner and that none are accidentally loaded.”
“Hopefully both sides can reach some sort of an agreement for next time. We don’t want another accident on set caused by an inexperienced armorer, you know?”
Both bills are expected to be revisited next session.