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Out of Bounds

Firearm Safety Before Acting

Soon computer-generated imagery will cure Hollywood’s firearm negligence. There’s no longer reason for firearms on set in inexperienced hands when realism can be created with pixels.

By Rob Breeding

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

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

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

There’s a lesson here for hunters, by the way.

Not surprisingly, the discussion that followed the announcement of charges was contentious. It involves guns, after all. What surprised me is that many folks seem to think movie sets operate in an alternative universe where common sense and proper gun safety rules are not required.

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

A foolish effort.

There are good reasons why the rules governing firearm safety supersede any conventions  or norms of the film industry. Consider it the firearms supremacy clause, starting with four simple principles:

1) Treat all guns as if they are loaded.

2) Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to kill or destroy.

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

4) Be sure of your target as well as what’s around and behind it.

It seems certain Baldwin broke rules 1-3. Probably No. 4, too.

No matter the norms of Hollywood, the competency of your on-set armorer or even the artistic integrity of the film itself, these rules always apply. They have supremacy over all other considerations. It’s the prime directive for handling firearms, whether you’re a movie star or  some dude trying to fill a tag before season’s end.

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

That’s shaped some of the debate, but my hunting buddy, the Long Walker, who is a staunch Trump supporter and … well, let’s just say he doesn’t much care for Baldwin, thinks the actor has a decent chance at acquittal. Baldwin’s attorneys can present an endless stream of industry types who’ll support their client’s position that actors delegating to their armorer when it comes to firearms is industry practice.

Maybe, but I think Baldwin had a duty to confirm the gun’s condition on his own. That’s the first thing you should do if someone hands you a firearm. 

For me, the charges here seem appropriate, though a jury may 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 no matter his legal exposure, he’s primarily responsible for Hutchins’ death. 

Soon computer-generated imagery will cure Hollywood’s firearm negligence. There’s no longer reason for firearms on set in inexperienced hands when realism can be created with pixels.

For hunters, the tragedy is a reminder that what caused Hutchins’ death, and what for decades has led to accidental shootings at gunfight shows and reenactments, is creeping complacency regarding safety. Protocols based on the four principles might fix that. 

On the movie set or hunt camp.

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