Film Industry Frets over Gun Curbs ; New York Stands to Lose Business If Producers Can't Use Lifelike Weapons

By Kaplan, Thomas | International Herald Tribune, May 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Film Industry Frets over Gun Curbs ; New York Stands to Lose Business If Producers Can't Use Lifelike Weapons


Kaplan, Thomas, International Herald Tribune


Officials in the movie and television industry say the gun control laws could prevent them from using the lifelike assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that they have employed in the past.

New York State's sweeping new gun control laws have a surprising critic: Hollywood.

Officials in the movie and television industry say the new laws could prevent them from using the lifelike assault weapons and high- capacity magazines that they have employed in shows like "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and films like "The Dark Knight Rises."

Twenty-seven film and television projects, including programs like "Blue Bloods" and "Person of Interest," are in production in New York State using assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Industry workers say that they need to use real weapons for verisimilitude, that it would be impractical to try to manufacture fake weapons that could fire blanks and that the entertainment industry should not be penalized accidentally by a law intended as a response to mass shootings.

"Weapons are part of our history as a culture as humans," said Ryder Washburn, vice president of The Specialists, a leading supplier of firearms for productions that is based in Manhattan, a borough of New York City. "To tell stories, you need them."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, who signed the gun control measures into law, has gone out of his way to promote the industry's success; on Monday, he issued one news release to say the state was on track to break its record for the number of television pilots shot in a year and another to say that "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" would begin production this week in Rochester. The governor has also enjoyed political support from Hollywood: his sole out-of-state fund- raiser as governor was held at the Los Angeles home of an HBO executive.

Industry officials, though, say the state's hastily developed measures pose an unexpected challenge to their growing production business in New York -- the possibility that fake police officers on television could be treated as real-life criminals. "Without clarification that the use of prop guns is still permitted on sets, many of the dozens of productions currently shooting in New York could be forced to go elsewhere," said Vans Stevenson, the senior vice president for state government affairs at the motion picture group, which is the powerful trade association of the movie business.

But some lawmakers, feeling stung by conservative and upstate voters over the gun control law, do not wish to vote on it again, even to make what the industry describes as a technical correction. Gun rights activists, who are challenging the new firearm restrictions in court, have mocked the idea of a so-called Hollywood exception.

"They're saying, 'Why are we being held to this standard when Hollywood is getting a pass, and they're the ones who are promoting the violence?"' said Thomas H. King, the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

The new laws expand New York's ban on assault weapons and high- capacity magazines, and beginning next January, they will prohibit the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Movie industry lawyers who have reviewed the measure say they are concerned that the ban could apply to the magazines used in prop guns on dozens of productions in the state.

Firearms on film and television sets are modified to shoot blanks; in some cases, the barrels are blocked off. But the guns, in many cases, feature magazines with a capacity above 10 rounds, and industry officials worry that uncertainty over potential legal liability could be enough to drive studios to move their productions to other states.

Asked in February about the industry's concerns, Mr. Cuomo expressed support for revising the law. "There's no reason not to make a change like that to give an industry comfort," he said at the time. …

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