Firearms on Set / by Jared Jones

assistantdirector:

Val here. 

It was a tough morning.  School shootings are never as distant as a news story. 

It was a very, very hard morning.

But all the talk about gun rights and gun safety has lead me to think of a recent incident on set where I saw someone mishandling firearms and I think it merits a post. 

Now, full disclosure.  I’m a gun owner.  Have been all my life.  It was never more than a tool in our house, usually used against cougars and bears.  Yes.  Honestly.  Some of us still live and grow up in areas where big predators live.  I am not a political gun owner.  I simply own a firearm and I’ve always known how to use it.   I personally believe that as long as firearms are legal in this country it is your responsibility to learn how to use them and what they are capable of.

So I want to talk about how to properly handle a gun on set as most of the time, I see it done wrong.   I want you to know what basic gun safety looks like so you know when someone is being safe on set and when they are not.


1.  A gun is always loaded.

I don’t give a FLYING FUCK if you just checked it and there are no bullets in it.  Repeat after me.  “A gun is always loaded.”  You always treat a gun as if it is loaded and can go off any second, all by itself.   My give a shits are not roused by your experience anywhere and what you know about guns.  You do not treat a firearm as if it is not loaded.  Why?  Because it’s a bad habit and people are often wrong, or mistaken, or make mistakes.  The best way you can ensure you don’t accidentally shoot someone is to not point at anyone, including yourself.

2. Do not walk with your finger on the trigger or stand around anyone who thinks this is a good idea or way to walk.

Because you don’t need to.  You are not a police officer, or a soldier, you are someone on set.  That means you have no real reason to ever fire that gun so do not put your finger on the trigger. 

3.  Guns are always pointed at the ground, straight up, or at an empty space where no bodies occupy. 

Ugh, I was just on a set a few weeks ago where the props guy arranged all the firearms to face the crew and then proceeded to talk about safety.  NO.  Weapons, any weapon, should always face AWAY.  That’s to ensure that if they somehow, magically, mysteriously, or through some mechanical reason misfire they don’t hit anyone.  The ground is safest but please be aware of what your ground is made of.  Sometimes bullets will ricochet.  That means that the bullet (depending on what kind of bullet, what kind of firearm and what kind surface) may bounce off, deflect or in short, come right back at you but at an angle.  So you want to take that into consideration.  Sometimes it’s safer to carry the gun so it’s pointed upwards.  Now, this is a judgement call.  So only the person authorized to make the call should be doing the handling.  HOWEVER, if you are on set and you think that judgment call is wrong speak up. 

4.  Never dry fire a weapon.

Do not pull the damn trigger.  There is no reason to.  There is never any reason to.  So do not do it.  If you need or must have the sensation of pulling a trigger, on set is not the time to do it.  Let me say that again: this weapon is not on set for you to explore, it’s on set for use as a prop and don’t pull the trigger.  EVER.  If you see someone dry firing a weapon on set I’d wonder… why?  Say something. SAY SOMETHING.   That’s not needed.  Griffin, jump in if you think that it is, but I would not want to be on that set. 

5.  If you want to be an AD or in Props or a department that handles firearms take a safety course.

Look, it’s a weapon and to know how to handle it safely you need to know how to handle it. The best way to know what is safe and what is not is to learn from an expert. Different firearms have different capabilities and different bullets do different things.  It’s good to know what you are handling if you have to handle it on set.  I think it’s also good to know what things do if you are writer.  In short, be educated. 

As I think they do some truly bizarre things, the NRA does offer classes that are quite good.  I’ve never tried it but you can try calling your local Police Department (their actual number, not the non emergency number) and ask for referrals or call the local range and see if there’s anything offered there.

5.  Do not use a firearm on set as a prop unless you’ve notified the local police and are shooting with a permit.

Again, my give a shits are low about what you think about a cop because maybe you met a bad one. The majority of them face violence as part of their daily job and it makes them understandably edgy and you’d be similar if someone pointed guns in your face on a regular basis.  You do not know the call the cop just came from when they get the call that it looks like some people are out in an alleyway with a gun .  Don’t expect they know you are making a student film.   Don’t get out a toy gun and wave it around on set unless you are 100 percent sure that the producers did it right and notified people properly.  An officer has a mere second or two to decide if something is real or not.  Don’t make them make that decision.  If you are the actor handling a prop weapon, be sure you contact producers and/or ask for any reassurance or proof of permit if you are on a shoot that you feel may fudge the rules.  YOU are the one holding the weapon.  YOU need to be responsible and careful and be ready to be the person who asks the hard questions.  Sometimes systems break and communication fails.  With firearms it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Always.

With love … and sorrow that my generation didn’t do better by you some days….

Val