News broke Thursday that prosecutors will charge actor Alec Baldwin with two counts of involuntary manslaughter over the shooting of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42. In New Mexico where the incident occurred, each count carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, but prosecutors have added a firearm enhancement that mandates five years behind bars.
It is hard to see how Baldwin couldn’t have been charged with at least involuntary manslaughter. The first rule of gun safety is you don’t point a gun a something unless you intend to shoot it. Even if you believe the gun is unloaded, you don’t point it directly at others.
Baldwin didn’t follow basic gun safety when he shot his cinematographer, Hutchins. Anyone who has been to a shooting range would have that drilled into them. And Baldwin, an actor for 40 years, who has been in many movies using guns, must surely have had this explained to him many times.
Indeed, the Actors Equity Association, the union to which Baldwin belongs, clearly states the rules for firearms use on its website:
“Treat all guns as if they are loaded and deadly.”
“Never point a firearm at anyone including yourself. Always cheat the shot by aiming to the right or left of the target character.”
“Check the firearm every time you take possession of it.”
“Live ammunition may not be brought into the theatre.”
Baldwin’s repeated claim that he never pulled the gun trigger is not credible, as an FBI forensic report released in August concluded the firearm couldn’t have gone off unless someone pulled the trigger. But even if it were credible, it would be irrelevant anyway because he violated that first rule of gun safety. If he hadn’t pointed his gun at her, it wouldn’t have mattered if he had pulled the trigger.
Baldwin has made numerous attempts to protect himself from criminal charges by blaming others. For example, even if a staffer notified Baldwin that the gun was unloaded, the first rule of gun safety ultimately makes the accident Baldwin’s responsibility.
As Matt Hutchins, Halyna’s husband, told NBC’s Hoda Kotb in an interview, “The idea that the person holding the gun and causing it to discharge is not responsible is absurd.”
As the executive producer for “Rust,” and being on-site, Baldwin may also bear responsibility for two prior accidental gun discharges on the set. He was responsible for the crew. He hired a young novice armorer, Hannah Gutierrez, who doubted her competency. Presumably, this decision saved the production some money, but at the risk that something might go wrong.
There is no doubt Baldwin is genuinely sorry about this tragedy. Indeed, as news reports indicate, he was undoubtedly “inconsolable,” but that doesn’t help him either. If you drive a car recklessly and kill someone, you are still liable for negligent manslaughter. The fact that you deeply regret the accident is entirely irrelevant. If they had only observed the proper caution, to begin with, the death would have been avoidable.
For involuntary manslaughter, the prosecution has to show that Baldwin engaged in a lawful but dangerous act and did not act with due caution. A classic example of involuntary manslaughter would be someone shooting a gun into the air while in a crowded place, and a stray bullet accidentally killing a person. The person wasn’t even aiming the gun at someone, but they are still responsible. These actions are reckless, negligent, and criminal but lack intent.
Baldwin had the ultimate responsibility for Hutchins’ death. He handled the gun and pointed it at her. As a result, he will likely go to jail for years.