“Rust,” Guns, And The Barn Door Fallacy

Barn door

The Barn Door Fallacy drives me crazy, and right now a particularly absurd outbreak of it is underway. The phenomenon, named after the old saw about “locking the barn door after the horse is gone,” is the product of pure emotionalism trumping reality: take extreme measures after a rare and perhaps preventable (though not necessarily) tragedy or accident as if doing so will change the fact that the unfortunate event happened. The “defund the police” madness was an obvious example: see, if there are no police, no police officer will ever unjustly kill an unarmed black man ever again! Problem solved! Brilliant!

These over-reactions are many things, all of them wrong. They are virtue-signalling by public officials who care less about solving a real problem than showing their empathy and outrage at something that “shouldn’t have happened.” They are irresponsible, because they advocate rushing into radical “solutions” to problems that are magnified by the proximity of the tragic event, and because the barn door fallacy advocates usually are insufficiently knowledgeable, often shockingly ignorant, in fact, regarding what they are grandstanding about. Moreover, the nostrums frequently are fueled by logical fallacies and rationalizations, such as “We have to do something!” and “If it saves just one life…!”

Much of the time, measures inspired by the Barn Door Fallacy make many things worse without making anything better. That is the likely result of the current Bran Door Fallacy freakout over the fatal gun accident on the set of “Rust,” in which a prop gun wielded by the movie’s star and producer, Alec Baldwin, fired a bullet that killed one and wounded another.

Now many in the movie industry are demanding that real guns be banned from all movie productions. Dozens of cinematographers have signed a pledge not to work on projects using functional firearms. A state lawmaker in California is drafting legislation that would ban operational firearms from sets.

Now, here’s a quiz: how many deaths from firearms have occurred on movie or TV production sets in the last, say, 50 years? Think about all the hundreds, thousands of gun battles and shootouts you have seen or know about. How many shooting deaths?

Well, the “Rust” accident was one. Another was in 1984, when actor Jon-Erik Hexum, joking around, placed a gun loaded with blanks to his temple and pulled the trigger. The discharge so close to his skull dislodged a dime-sized piece of bone that went right through his brain, killing him. Then, in 1993, actor Brandon Lee, 28, was killed after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie “The Crow.” The gun was supposed to have fired a blank. His death was the last recorded accidental death by a prop gun on a movie set until Baldwin’s mishap.

This means that using guns on movie sets is safer than driving cars, crossing the street, or taking the Wuhan virus shots. It is safer than using a kitchen knife, or having minor surgery. Moreover, nobody knows yet how a bullet came to be in Baldwin’s gun.

The news media, being dominated by anti-gun advocates, are deliberately obscuring the fact, and it is a fact, that there isn’t a problem here that needs solving. “On-set deaths from prop guns are rare — but not unheard of” is NPR’s spin. Ah! Any freak accident that isn’t “unheard of” demands major action to be sure that it cannot happen again, even if, as in the case of “Rust,” we still don’t know how it happened!

The third paragraph of the NPR story reads, “An Associated Press report from 2016 determined that from 1990 until the time of publication, at least 43 people died on sets in the U.S. and more than 150 had been left with life-altering injuries.” This actually confused me, because I first read it to say that all of those deaths and injuries had been caused by guns on movie sets. What is the relevance of that statistic? The only way to prevent deaths on movie sets is to ban making movies.

“[M]any in the film industry see the tragedy more as a problem of failing to adhere to existing firearms safety protocols than of requiring new, stricter protocols,” the Times story about the controversy says. Many? Why not all, since the tragedy WAS the result of Baldwin and others on the set “failing to adhere to existing firearms safety protocols?” Because we have to do something that would prevent the death of “Rust’s” cinematographer if we went back to the set in a time machine! That’s why.

The argument being made now is that special effects can be used to make non-functional firearms appear to fire realistically on film. Reed Morano, a cinematographer, wrote on Instagram, “How many more deaths do we need to mourn to prove that this must change?” Now there is a perfect, fact-free, emotion-based argument. and for a lot of people, that’s all they need.

Dave Cortese is the Democratic state senator in California who has been drafting legislation that would ban operational firearms and blanks from sets. Cortese said in an interview that the current system for safety protocols around handling guns on sets — guidelines outlined by unions and production companies — were ‘not sufficient to ensure enforcement and accountability.” Not sufficient: three deaths in half a century or more, two of which (at least) were due to blatant human error. Not good enough! Ban prop guns. In fact, ban all guns, everywhere. Just to be on the safe side.

“Right now what’s missing is the consequences,” he said. “Life and death is not an OK consequence of an error or omission.” Now there we see the fanatic, no-risk society logic that the Far Left increasingly endorses. No, death is not an “OK” consequence, but it is, in fact, a consequence of not staying in a locked and padded room and never doing anything. Making art can be dangerous.

Cortese’s preference is for an outright ban on operational firearms and blanks, which he is sure can be replaced with special effects. “Some people say, ‘Why get rid of them?’” Mr. Cortese said. “Why have them? What’s the point in this day and age?”

How many movies and plays with guns in them have you performed in, Dave? I’ve performed in and directed several plays that used gunfire, and the visceral effect of the sound and feel of discharges on the action and the acting cannot be imitated by someone shouting “Bang!”

I also recall how my four productions of “12 Angry Men” had to break local laws against switchblades, which are essential to one of the play’s most dramatic moments. I told the cast and producers that I’d accept full legal responsibility if any charges were brought, which of course they were not. Do you know what less intrepid productions use? Switchcombs! Yes, gag combs that pop out of a swtchblade housing when you press the release. Scary! Of course, you could stick one in your eye. Better have Nerf switchcombs.

I’m sure Cortese is certain these would be just as good as the real knives too—and best of all, nobody has ever been injured by a Nerf switchcomb.

10 thoughts on ““Rust,” Guns, And The Barn Door Fallacy

  1. It won’t be long before the governor’s of Texas, Florida, (to name but a few) etc invite production companies to make the movies in their states.

    I also wonder how a CA law (if enacted) would have effect on movies made in New Mexico. Every day I see annother reason to feel good about my move out of that Bizarro world.

  2. It’s a lot of “we must do something because something bad happened” logic, but I actually don’t mind this one. With what they do with CGI and stuff, it seems like an easy thing to incorporate and might actually be beneficial to downsizing cost. I guess I would have to see a strong argument for why shooting blanks is a good simulator as shooting real bullets. In my personal experience, it isn’t.

    In the military we used to use a type of gear called Miles gear. It was kind of like playing laser tag with the M16. To trigger the laser, we used blank ammo. It never felt like firing the real thing. This might be because the M16 has a better buffer than a normal handgun but I can’t imagine it being too different.

    • It may seem easy to use CGI instead, but from what I’ve seen in behind-the-scenes footage and dabbling in graphic design myself, it often isn’t. One major complaint about movies nowadays is they rely too heavily on CGI instead of practical effects, and a discerning eye can tell the difference. I also wonder if it would really cost less to pay a CGI artist to fill in the appropriate firing burst than it would to use blanks.

  3. The switchblade is an excellent example of this, as the blades were banned as a result of scare tactics and lurid Hollywood flicks. One article, “The Toy that Kills” scared up enough controversy to turn a few dozen picked up by cops into a threat which had to be addressed by lawmakers. The federal authorities in charge of keeping the peace said “this is not necessary,” and the lawmakers said “this won’t actually stop crime, but it might, and who wants to vote against stopping crime?”
    And so, another useful tool was banned because it might be bad someday.

  4. I still don’t understand what’s wrong with “no live ammo on the set.”

    How the hell did live ammo get anywhere near the gun that was handed to the asshole in chief?

    • I have contended all along that Mr. Baldwin’s firearm was purposely loaded with live ammunition. There is little doubt that he had no intention of shooting anyone, but that shooting sure seems intentional to me.

  5. Having seen Jack’s production of Twelve Angry Men personally, I can vouch that the moment where one of the jurors stabs the knife into the table couldn’t possibly have the same impact if it weren’t a real knife.


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