Anyone who served in the military or has ever taken any firearms training knows one fundamental rule of gun safety is you never point a gun at anyone – even if you think it is unloaded – unless you really intend to shoot that person.
A Hollywood firearms expert confirmed that rule is 100% to be followed on any movie set.
“Loaded or unloaded, a weapon never gets pointed at another human being,” Hollywood firearms consultant Bryan Carpenter of Dark Thirty Film Services said, speaking to the NY Post.
Baldwin, 63, fired a prop gun that killed Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injured the film’s director, Joel Souza, on the “Rust” set in Santa Fe, NM, on Thursday. Carpenter added that the celebrated actor is going to face a gauntlet of legal challenges — including possible criminal charges — as both the man who pulled the trigger and as the executive producer responsible for set safety.
For safety, all live firearms used in TV and film productions are typically aimed at a dummy point, not at equipment, cast, or crew, Carpenter noted. Guns, he said, are never aimed at a person.
“You never let the muzzle of a weapon cover something you don’t intend to destroy,” said Carpenter, whose New Orleans-based firm has worked on the sets of scores of TV and film productions. “All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.”
Former filmmaker and former US National Shooting Team member Peter Lake put the blame on Baldwin.
“The buck stops with Alec Baldwin on every level,” he said. “It looks very bad for him. At least the captain of the Titanic had the good sense to go down with the ship.”
Baldwin was told it was safe to use the prop gun minutes before he fired the round that fatally struck Hutchins, a warrant application from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office says.
At the time, Hutchins was behind a camera operator’s monitor, looking over the operator’s shoulders, a source close to the crew told The Los Angeles Times, and Souza was behind them.
Crew had “yet to retreat” to the video village — an area set up for crew — to watch “from a distance,” the paper reported.
Assistant Director Dave Halls didn’t know the firearm had a live round in it, announcing it was a “cold gun” when he gave it to Baldwin, the court papers say.
For clarification on a movie set, a “live round” still refers to a blank. A blank is a cartridge loaded with gunpowder but no bullet. This is as opposed to “live ammunition,” which is a cartridge with a bullet. There is no reason why any prop gun would ever be loaded with real ammunition on a movie set. However, even blanks can be dangerous, as there have been incidents where parts of the blank round itself become projectiles. It has not been released yet what struck and killed Hutchins. This is why the cardinal rule is to never point the muzzle of a gun – even it is loaded with a blank – at a human being.
Baldwin may face serious legal trouble, possibly including negligent manslaughter, Joseph Costa, an attorney with Costa Law in Los Angeles, told The Post.
“As an executive producer, you are in a position of control, and you can get prosecuted criminally,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of drinking and driving, meaning someone may not have intended to cause great harm, but they do.”
New Mexico criminal attorney Erlinda Johnson, a former state and federal prosecutor, said the actor faces possible criminal liability for involuntary manslaughter.
“All the state needs to demonstrate is that he was engaged in a lawful but dangerous act and did not act with due caution,” she said.
“That’s what the state has to prove for involuntary manslaughter, which is a fourth-degree felony with a maximum penalty of up to 18 months in prison.”
She speculated that Baldwin may argue that someone handed him the gun, “but then, well, it was incumbent upon him, since he was handling the gun, to make sure there were no rounds.”
“Clearly, someone didn’t do their due diligence,” she said. “They should have been checking those guns to make sure there were no live rounds.”
LA defense attorney Denise Bohdan predicted that “anyone running that set will be sued.”
“Yes, Alec Baldwin was the main producer, but it might be found out that another producer did more to cut corners. I don’t think there will be anything as bad as a murder charge, but this is going to be a legal nightmare for Baldwin,” she said.
The production was reportedly troubled over its firearms and general safety on the set.
The prop gun had misfired twice on Oct. 16 and once the week before, according to the LA Times, and union workers said the set was plagued by safety issues, prompting them to walk out in the hours ahead of Thursday’s tragic shooting.