New Mexico Lawmaker Seeks to Mandate Hunter Safety Course for Film Workers

A new bill would require film workers in New Mexico to pass a hunter safety course if firearms are present on set.

The bill, SB 188, was introduced on Monday by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. It is the Legislature’s first attempt to respond to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust” near Santa Fe last October.

In an interview, Pirtle said the proposal is a simple step to ensure job site safety.

“A lot of the people in these movies haven’t grown up around firearms like I have,” he told Variety. “They don’t know the difference between properly handling the firearm and improperly doing so.”

Hutchins was killed when Alec Baldwin fired what he thought was a “cold” gun on set. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators are still piecing together how the Colt .45 came to be loaded with a live round, instead of dummies. Much of the investigation and media coverage has focused on Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the 24-year-old armorer who loaded the weapon, and who was working as an armorer for only the second time.

New Mexico does not impose any certification requirements on film armorers or prop workers who handle guns, and the state does not have a firearms training class that is tailored for the film industry.

The state does have a course that is mandatory for any hunters younger than 18. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish oversees the course, which deals with safe gun handling as well as basic hunting and shooting skills. A 100-page workbook that accompanies the course includes sections on the behavior and anatomy of wild mammals and fowl and provides tips on where to aim (“A quick, clean kill improves the flavor of game meat”).

Pirtle said he had recently taken the course with his 10-year-old son.

“It’s a course that is really all about beginners,” he said. “The main focus is how to safely handle a firearm in multiple instances.”

He added that it was important to move quickly by using a pre-existing course, rather than starting from scratch. Pirtle said he had also worked as an actor in a couple of film projects where guns were used and believes the basic safety principles are the same.

Pirtle’s bill would apply to all employees of a production company — not just those working with guns. It would also impose a stiff penalty for violations, stripping film productions of state tax credits for any year in which a violation occurred.

Scott Rasmussen, a veteran film armorer based in Albuquerque, said that he passed the hunter education course when he was young, and that it is not relevant to the film industry. He also said that any training requirement should apply only to armorers — not to the entire crew.

“This person really has not thought this through,” Rasmussen said. “You can’t mandate that people that are coming in from another state have to come in a week or two early so they can take our state’s hunter safety course.”

Rasmussen said that if the bill were to become law, it would send production to other states.

In California, prop workers who are members of IATSE Local 44 must complete an introductory firearms course. The course is not designed to provide intensive instruction on how to be a film armorer. State Sen. Dave Cortese introduced a bill earlier this month that would mandate the course for armorers and for anyone “in proximity to the use of firearms on set.”

Neither bill would prohibit the use of real firearms on set. Immediately after the “Rust” shooting, several industry figures said they would no longer use real guns in their productions. But film armorers have pushed back on the idea of a ban, saying it’s important to be able to shoot blanks and that it can be accomplished safely.

The New Mexico legislative session ends on Feb. 17 and it’s unclear if Pirtle’s proposal has the support it would need to pass.

“Just from the phone calls I’m getting from around the state, the average New Mexican supports it,” Pirtle said. “Hopefully the other legislators, as we start to move it forward, understand the importance… It will show the world that New Mexico residents are serious and that our employees are going to be safe.”

Immediately after the “Rust” shooting, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, urged the film industry to adopt “comprehensive new safety protocols.” She also said that if the industry did not take the initiative, the state would take action to address set safety.

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