New York City productions using fake assault weapons face legal penalties unless Gov. Cuomo includes a cleanup amendment
New York's new gun-control laws may be good for the state, but they're bad news for Hollywood.
Following a string of mass shootings — most notably the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn. — New York wanted to be the first state to pass new, tougher gun laws.
It got its wish with the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, which the state Senate and state Assembly pushed through on Jan. 14 and 15, respectively. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the SAFE Act into law a half-hour later after it passed, waiving the typical public review period.
But in the rush to pass it, the state neglected to address a key issue: It did not include exceptions for the fake assault weapons routinely deployed on film and television sets. If not addressed before the laws go into effect on April 15, it could mean major headaches — even legal penalties — for members of the Big Apple's growing filmed-entertainment business.
After realizing the omission, Cuomo (left) promised a “cleanup amendment” to the act would be in place for cops and Hollywood by the deadline. But as of Tuesday — with just two weeks left — no such amendment has been attached, even though advocacy groups pleased with the strict SAFE Act approve of the fake-gun exception.
“These guns are going to be props, more or less, for filming," Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said. "No one who shouldn't have it is going to be able to get it, so there's not going to be any risk to public safety of anyone getting a prop gun with no bullets."
So what's holding it up?
Senate co-leader Dean G. Skelos, for one, has been vocal against the special "carve-out" for the movie industry, saying it sets a bad precedent.
“My concern is, why are you [making exceptions] for Hollywood, and others cannot do the same thing?” Skelos told the Buffalo News. “I don't believe [Hollywood] should be treated any differently.”
Skelos did not respond to TheWrap's request for comment.
Currently in New York, it is against the law to possess even blank-firing assault weapons or imitations — in other words, the weapons seen on screen. A production company, however, can acquire permits, insurance and use a licensed prop gun supplier, to have these otherwise illegal replicas on set. Licensed pyro-technicians and gun handlers are also a necessary presence on set to supervise those props that would be firing blanks.
The SAFE Act, which bans high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons, makes no mention of the weaponry used by onscreen action heroes.
The stakes are too high to not fix the oversight immediately Vans Stevenson, the Motion Picture Association of America's senior vice president for state government affairs, told TheWrap. "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.”
"We are confident that Gov. Cuomo and state leaders will get this fix done as their intention with this law was never to impact the use of props on set,” he added.
Indeed, New York cannot risk losing the film industry, which has been growing rapidly in the state. The state has actively courted Hollywood, offering hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives for production companies to shoot within its borders. Since the film tax credit program started in 2004, it has leveraged an estimated $12.1 billion worth of direct spending, according to Cuomo's office. In 2012, it is estimated that the 134 projects that have applied for the program will result in $2.2 billion in spending in New York.
According to a 2012 Boston Consulting Group study, filmed production counts for $7.1 billion in spending and employs 130,000 people in the city alone. Television productions alone grew by 82 percent since 2002.
And looming is “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the largest movie production ever filmed in New York, Cuomo said last month, adding that it's expected to create 3,500 jobs and cast 11,000 extras. It is being shot entirely in New York state, in locations ranging from Rochester to Manhattan. The production will span 150 days.
It's unclear if the script will call for the use of assault-style weapons or high-capacity magazines, but that kind of fake firepower has appeared in superhero movies in the past. Excluding the fake-gun exception from the SAFE Act would be disastrous to the project.
Meanwhile, the deadline for an amendment approaches with little movement — and seemingly little opposition, even from opponents of the SAFE Act.
Seneca Sporting Range owner John DeLoca is against the new law, but he is very much in favor of the film and television set exception. DeLoca has worked on many sets and trained several actors; he played a gun dealer on the HBO series “Bored to Death” and has shot two episodes of “The Good Wife” at his gun range in Queens.
DeLoca showed TheWrap the most popular assault rifle for film, the AK-47, as he lamented the possibility of the film and television business without an amendment.
"Whether you have seven rounds or five rounds or a big banana clip or small gun,” DeLoca said, “if they're going to make a movie in New York City, I think they should make it as real as possible.”