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What The Baldwin Mishap Says About Guns Isn’t What You Might Think


The investigation into the fatal shooting of movie camerawoman Halyna Hutchins by actor Alec Baldwin with a prop gun on the set of the latter’s movie, “Rust,” last Thursday is ongoing, with new information and speculations appearing daily, so prudent people will let the investigation run its course before reaching conclusions. The fact that Mr. Baldwin has been a hard-core leftist activist, particularly against the right to keep and bear arms, should not lessen conservatives’ self-restraint in this regard.

We have been told several key elements so far. During a rehearsal, Baldwin pointed in Mrs. Hutchins’s direction a single-action revolver that a film crew member had claimed was unloaded. The gun fired, perhaps because Baldwin cocked the hammer prematurely or pulled the trigger unintentionally, something got caught on the trigger, the gun malfunctioned, or Baldwin fired the gun intentionally for rehearsal purposes, thinking it was unloaded—and Hutchins and film director Joel Souza were struck, the latter non-fatally. Also, the same gun may have been used by some film crew members for target shooting with conventional ammunition earlier in the day.

However, as with people’s reactions to many other topics in modern society’s news cycle, in this instance self-restraint against conclusion-jumping is not universal. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who normally gadflies on topics more within his area of expertise, knee-jerked, “What is needed now is a clear law that categorically prohibits any real gun or real bullet from being used on a film set.”

Of course, no such need has been established. Movies have a good, if not perfect, track record where firearm safety is concerned and, although we should still wait for the results of the investigation, what has been reported thus far suggests, if anything, not that the movie industry’s safety procedures are inadequate, but that they may not have been followed by Baldwin and some members of his crew.

One fact about the tragedy appears to have emerged: an effort to exonerate Baldwin, one of the hard left’s favored Hollywood personalities. Most conspicuously, Democrats and leftwing civilian disarmament activist groups, who would otherwise be using the tragedy as the launchpad for an indignant and self-righteous campaign against the right to keep and bear arms, are being silent.

More subtly, a Fox News article quoted a movie prop master explaining how people in his line of work are responsible for checking firearms before they get into actors’ hands. “If you do enough safety checks along the way, nothing should happen. But, obviously, the gun on Alec Baldwin’s set was not checked. Because if it was, they would have seen the bullet in there,” he reportedly said.

Another Fox News article stated that “a camera operator who was working on the film’s set [the day of the tragedy] noted to detectives that Baldwin was very careful when it came to the use of prop firearms while filming prior to the tragic accident,” and “the actor observed all the safety protocols and even did an extra check-in with the crew to make sure no one was near him. Specifically, he made sure a child who was on set that day wasn’t anywhere near him when discharging the weapon.”

However, whatever the movie industry’s protocols may be, in the firearm training world it’s universally understood that once a person takes a gun into his or her hands, he or she is responsible for it. And while the cameraman Fox quoted may be correct that Baldwin was safe previously, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he was without fault in Hutchins’s death.

Furthermore, in the firearm training world, the Baldwin incident would not be considered an “accident”—a mishap that occurs despite someone doing everything correctly. Unless someone deliberately loaded the gun with conventional ammunition, knowing it would be fired by Baldwin in that condition—which at this point there is no publicly known reason to suspect—the tragedy was the result of  “negligence”—something that occurred because one or more people failed to follow safety rules and procedures.

There’s A Reason to Always Follow the Rules

Leading voices among firearm instructors, their organizations, and the firearm industry commonly advise many safety rules. Some apply to all firearms, some to certain types of firearms because of how they function mechanically, and others to certain situations, such as training classes, shooting competitions, and the making of movies. Furthermore, several rules are widely considered cardinal and may be relevant in this instance.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), which has thousands of certified instructors nationwide, has long advised three safety rules that apply to all firearms at all times. The military, which trains almost as many Americans annually as NRA instructors do, uses basic firearm safety rules that track with the first two of the NRA’s rules.

The NRA’s first rule is “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.” Normally that means, among other things, “not at another person.” Its meaning and purpose is so obvious that even someone with no experience handling firearms can understand it.

It’s often described as the most important rule, on the reasoning that even if someone failed to follow every other rule, and as a result fired a gun unintentionally, if that person were pointing the gun in a safe direction at the time the gun fired, he or she might be embarrassed and would almost certainly be read the Riot Act by the range safety officer at a shooting range, but no one would have been hurt.

The NRA’s second and third rules are “Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot” and “Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use,” the intents of which are also easy for almost anyone to understand.

Whether the intents of these rules were violated in Baldwin’s instance would depend on whether the scene he was rehearsing called for him to fire the gun (loaded with blank ammunition, of course) in the direction of Hutchins’s camera with her manning the camera, whether crew members in the chain of custody of Baldwin’s gun inspected the gun according to movie industry safety protocols, and whether there was any lapse, even for a moment, in that chain of custody.

Regular Training Reduces Risk

People who train seriously with firearms load, unload, and otherwise handle firearms so frequently that they must adhere to safety rules religiously, lest Murphy’s Law force a mishap. In training and competition events, participants are frequently required to unload firearms while observed by supervisory personnel, and go through various steps to demonstrate beyond any doubt that their guns are unloaded.

Serious gun owners don’t follow safety rules only most of the time, or when they feel like it, or when someone else is looking, or when they’re not in a hurry, or when they’re not distracted. They do things correctly each and every time. This is because doing things the safe way is more safe, and because by doing things correctly every time, they program themselves to do those things even if tired or distracted.

No one is born knowing how to handle firearms safely. Liking guns is not the same as knowing how to handle them. Even having owned guns for many years, and having shot guns many times, is not proof of knowing how to handle firearms correctly. The right to keep and bear arms is, at a last resort, our most important right, thus it’s one that should be exercised with the utmost care and attention to detail.