January 29, 2023

Actor Alec Baldwin was charged last week with manslaughter for the shooting and shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a set in New Mexico in 2021.

Baldwin shot and killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza while rehearsing a scene for the film Rust. The scene required Baldwin to draw his gun and point it at the camera. There’s some dispute as to what happened next — we’ll learn more when the case goes to court — but someone handed Baldwin the gun and announced “cold gun.”

Baldwin drew and the gun fired. He claims he didn’t pull the trigger, but guns don’t fire by themselves. An FBI report disputes Baldwin’s claim.

Here, by the way, there is a lesson for hunters.

Unsurprisingly, after the indictment was announced, the discussion was controversial. After all, it’s about guns. What surprised me is that a lot of people seem to think that movie sets work in an alternate universe where common sense and proper gun safety rules aren’t required.

The physics of firearms are immutable. Newton’s Laws of Motion aren’t suspended because you’ve stepped onto a film set, although following the announcement some seemed to argue just that. I know I’ve discussed them on social media.

A foolish attempt.

It is not for nothing that the gun safety rules are supplanting all the conventions and norms of the film industry. Think of it as the firearms primacy clause, starting with four simple principles:

1) Treat all weapons as if they were loaded.

2) Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to kill or destroy.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you have your sights on the target.

4) Be aware of your target and what is around and behind it.

It seems certain that Baldwin broke rules 1-3. Probably #4 too.

Regardless of Hollywood norms, the skill of your gunsmith on set, or even the artistic integrity of the film itself, these rules always apply. They take precedence over all other considerations. It’s the number one guideline for handling firearms, whether you’re a movie star or a guy trying to fill a day before the season ends.

Baldwin is a decent actor who I’ve enjoyed in many films, but lately he’s better known as a critic and impersonator of former President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

That shaped some of the debate, but my hunting buddy, the Long Walker, who’s a staunch Trump supporter and…well, let’s just say he doesn’t particularly like Baldwin, thinks the actor has a good chance of an acquittal. Baldwin’s attorneys can provide an endless stream of industry representatives who support their client’s position that it is industry standard for actors to hire their gunsmith when dealing with firearms.

Maybe, but I think Baldwin had a duty to confirm the gun’s condition himself. That’s the first thing you should do when someone hands you a gun.

To me the charges here seem reasonable, although a jury can very well acquit.

It’s clear there was a lot of negligence on the set of “Rust,” but Baldwin was in control of the firearm, and regardless of his legal exposure, he is primarily responsible for Hutchin’s death.

Soon, computer-generated imagery will cure Hollywood’s laxity about guns. There’s no reason to leave firearms in inexperienced hands on set when realism can be created with pixels.

For hunters, the tragedy is a reminder that the death of Hutchins, and what has led to accidental shooting in gunfights and reenactments for decades, is a creeping complacency about safety. Protocols based on the four principles could fix that.

On the film set or in the hunting camp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *