Hollywood's gun problem — and ours

·4 min read
A gun.
A gun. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Let's start with the most obvious point: Halyna Hutchins should be alive right now. She is not. That fact is a terrible tragedy.

Hundreds of people in America die every week from gun violence. Their deaths are noticed mostly in their own communities, rarely cause for national interest except in the case of mass shootings. Hutchins was different: The gun that killed her was supposed to be fake. She was the director of photography on a movie starring the actor Alec Baldwin. He fired a gun that was being used as a prop, striking her in the chest. The movie's director was also injured. The details of the incident are still murky — we don't know, for example, why or how there was a projectile in the gun — but Hollywood has understandably been thrown into turmoil.

On Friday, producers of the ABC show The Rookie announced the series will no longer use live guns on set, instead opting to add in muzzle flashes and other special effects using CGI. "The safety of our cast and crew is too important," showrunner Alexi Hawley wrote. "Any risk is too much risk." Other TV and movie productions may follow suit. "There's no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore," Craig Zobel, the director of Mare of Easttown, wrote on Twitter. "Should just be fully outlawed. There's computers now."

A single, apparently accidental death has caused the entertainment industry to rethink its firearms practices — to question its priorities and rules, the way it does business. Things are already starting to change.

If only we could do the same for the many Americans who die of gun violence every day, on the streets and in their own homes.

Consider this: Between Oct. 14 and Oct. 20, more than 300 people around the country died by gunfire — a mix of homicides, suicides, and accidents, and a tragedy for each and every one of the families involved. More than 19,000 people died by gun during 2020, a massive uptick over the previous year. Gun violence increased more than 30 percent during the first year of the pandemic. We're told constantly that crime is a problem in America and that the political implications could be quite consequential. But our actions belie our rage. When it comes to the obvious source of all that violence — the massive number of guns flooding this country — our leaders don't seem to be doing all that much.

Maybe that's because we disagree about what is actually happening. An Axios/Ipsos poll released over the weekend indicates that Americans are split on the crime issue, as they are so many other topics. Republicans mostly blame Democrats and police defunding for the rise in crime; Democrats blame rising gun sales and loose gun laws. I suspect Democrats have the better argument: Very few police departments have been truly defunded, and where defunding of any sort happened it has often been reversed. But there really are a tremendous number of guns in America, and more new firearms are added to the tally every day.

Still, it's striking that Democrats currently have a "trifecta" — control of the House, Senate and White House — and there doesn't seem to be much movement toward implementing any kind of new gun regulations. The Biden administration announced some initiatives back in June, but they mostly amounted to a pledge to more vigorously enforce gun laws already on the books. The House of Representatives passed a pair of measures earlier this year, but they've gone nowhere in the Senate. All eyes are on efforts to pass President Biden's "social infrastructure" agenda instead. Understandable, perhaps, but the overall lack of action suggests we collectively have decided that thousands upon thousands of gun deaths are somehow acceptable.

That shouldn't be true.

Maybe it's impossible to do anything about this crisis. Maybe the filibuster or the Supreme Court will keep us from ever doing something effective to reduce the glut of unnecessary, violent gun deaths that afflict this country. And maybe we'll go on normalizing those deaths, because to truly feel their weight and the burden of our collective inaction is too much to bear.

But Hollywood's response to Halyna Hutchins' death suggests we're capable of changing what we can do — at least if we stop to take notice.

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