Australia could have a National Code for Firearms introduced across the production sector in the wake of some high-profile on-set tragedies.
The potential for a unifying legislation comes in the wake of the coroner’s findings around the death of stuntman Johann Ofner (pictured above) on the set of Bliss n Eso’s music video for “Friend Like You”.
There has also been international attention on the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Alec Baldwin film “Rust”.
In the case of Ofner’s death in Australia, no charges were laid after the police investigation, but the coroner did find several criminal offences had taken place.
At last week’s Screen Forever conference, Owen Johnston, industrial and commercial consultant for the event’s organiser Screen Producers Australia outlined the many and varied missteps which had taken place on the “Friend Like You” set.
The coroner found that the blank used in the sawn-off shotgun was supplied by an unlicensed ammunition maker, leading to him being charged and fined, Johnston said.
The other issue related to the offending weapon, which was an operable firearm.
“Now this is a bit of an issue for our industry, because we often use operable firearms if, for example, you’re making a period film and you need to acquire 100 rifles, for example, from a certain period. They’ll be held by collectors a lot of the time. The armorers will import them from the collectors. The collectors aren’t going to allow you to modify the weapon. The weapon is going to have to be used as is – obviously not firing anything,” Johnston explained.
“As we move more and more into affordable post-production techniques, this might be less of an issue. But in Queensland at least, it’s illegal for an operable firearm to be used on a set, even if it’s firing a blank, even if it’s pointed at no one. And in New South Wales, it’s not illegal under the legislation, but it is a condition of the license that the armorer must get, so effectively it’s also illegal in New South Wales.”
On the Bliss n Eso set, a separate pistol being used in the production was tested by the armorer prior to filming, but the offending sawn-off shotgun was not.
Johnston explained that the armourer involved would have faced criminal charges for manslaughter, however he died of cancer six months after the event.
The coroner also recorded a number of failings on the part of the producer, including a failure to appoint a site safety officer with overall control of safety considerations.
The production team was also criticised for not undertaking firearm safety briefings and failing to test the gun. According to Johnston, the coroner implied that action could be taken against the producer for failing to consult under the relevant workplace health and safety acts.
All of these considerations, Johnston said, highlight how a National Code for Firearms on sets could help with safety and accountability.
“One of the recommendations that’s come out of that is that there be a National Code for firearms in theatrical productions. If we get a National Code and this tragedy happens again, then producers would be charged under that code. And it’s likely that that will happen. It may take some years to come into effect,” he said.