Monday, October 25, 2021


“Always be a good boy,” Johnny Cash’s mother tells him in Folsom Prison Blues, “don’t ever play with guns.” It’s advice we should hope Hollywood heeds in the wake of Alec Baldwin accidentally killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza on the set of “Rust,” Hollywood’s latest “revenge fantasy.” The angry and controversial actor pulled the trigger, but a Hollywood obsessed with shoot-‘em-ups loaded that gun while inspiring millions to reach for their holsters to settle scores.

Film armorer Larry Zanoff told the New York Times, “The safety guidelines that we live by on television and movie sets prohibit the use of live ammunition.” Yet the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees found that Mr. Baldwin‘s weapon had a “live single round,” noting that the film had a non-union crew. The production cut corners to cut costs, hiring an armorer who said she was “nervous” and unsure if she was ready for the job. 

Safety is expendable, but you’ll have to pry firearms from Hollywood’s cold, dead hands.

Actors like to lecture Americans to disarm, but as much time as they spend in front of the mirror, they never really reflect. Take Mark Harmon. He became an anti-gun advocate after a stalker murdered his wife’s co-star. Yet playing a vengeful sniper on “NCIS,” Mr. Harmon iced more people than all America’s serial killers put together and expected us to applaud. Notably, according to co-star Pauley Perrette, he also failed to secure his dog after it bit crewmembers. Safety last.

This revenge-obsessed industry serves up firearms on the Kraft Services tables, arming hypocritical actors who savage responsible gun owners while producing IMAX advertisements for criminal violence. Mr. Baldwin‘s wasn’t the first careless gunplay on “Rust,” either. By all accounts, Homer Simpson handled his revolver with greater care — and he stored it in the lettuce crisper. 

If Mr. Baldwin had taken an NRA safety course, he might have never stopped throwing up, but he‘d have learned the No. 1 rule: Never point a gun at anyone. Ah, but all these revenge fantasies center around doing just that, while actors hide behind absurd claims that fictional violence has no impact on society. Please. Why make so many movies pushing the latest woke political agenda if they don’t think it influences viewers? To quote the tagline of George Lucas’s TMX: “The audience is listening.”

When I interviewed Concordia University’s Travis Smith, Ph.D., about his book, “Superhero Ethics,” I asked him what had changed in pop culture that beloved role models like Superman, Batman and Optimus Prime, who once had core rules against taking life, nowadays kill with casual indifference. Dr. Travis lamented, “It’s remarkable that we ever found ourselves in a society in which we could imagine heroes who refused to take a life.”

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, actors didn’t wrap up every plot in a hail of full metal jackets. Stefan Kanfer titled his biography of Humphrey Bogart “Tough Without a Gun” as a nod to this ethos. When Elisha Cook’s character asks Bogie’s Sam Spade what kind of gun he carries in “The Maltese Falcon,” as if judging his manhood, Spade replies, “None. I don’t like ‘em.” That’s not virtue signaling, it’s character development, letting the audience know our hero will solve problems with brains, not bullets.

Bogie’s generation had seen enough real death in the World Wars and Great Depression, so they found other ways to tell satisfying stories. Not to mention they used live rounds fired by trained snipers. (In 1932’s “Taxi,” James Cagney almost got clipped.) Those actors knew Colt .45s are not toys and that shooting the bad guy every time is a lazy version of the classic screenwriter sin: Uzi Ex Machina.

An investigation will uncover the truth and flesh out the facts. But if we don’t address the root problem, Hollywood will just move on to carelessly producing their next splatter fest, never pausing to confront their reliance on guns as plot devices to be treated like any other props.

In a modern song with flavors of The Man in Black’s Outlaw Country, the band Dorothy asks, “Why did love put a gun in my hand?” Studios should ask why their love for glorifying gun violence put that piece in Mr. Baldwin‘s grubby grip. But I don’t hold out much hope for that reckoning, not in an industry more prone to self-aggrandizement than self-reflection. More likely, L.A. will continue to roll along the way another Bogart character, Philip Marlowe, described it in “The Big Sleep.”

“Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains.”

• Dean Karayanis is a producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer, and host of the History Author Show on iHeartRadio.

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