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.
Alec Baldwin didn’t follow basic gun safety when he accidentally shot his cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, 42. Anyone who has been to a shooting range would have that drilled into them. And Baldwin, an actor who has been in many movies using guns, must surely have had this explained to him many times.
Since the killing, numerous news stories have come out blaming others on the set for unsafe practices. Headlines read: “Armorer on Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ set once admitted to being ‘nervous’ about abilities,” “Alec Baldwin assistant director had history of unsafe practices, prop maker says,” “‘Rust’ crew describes on-set gun safety issues and misfires days before fatal shooting,” or “Assistant Director Declared Gun Safe Before Alec Baldwin Fatally Fired It, Affidavit Says.”
But these are lame attempts to protect Baldwin from criminal charges. And that is true despite there being no doubt that Baldwin is genuinely sorry about this tragedy. Indeed, as news reports indicate, he was undoubtedly “inconsolable.” but that doesn’t help him either.
Reports in the New York Post indicate that union representatives say the gun Baldwin fired contained a live round. But even if a staffer told Baldwin that the gun was unloaded, the first rule of gun safety ultimately makes the accident Baldwin’s responsibility. Baldwin was the one who pointed the gun at Hutchins and pulled the trigger.
Baldwin obviously never had the intent to kill Hutchins, but 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 completely irrelevant. If they had only observed the proper caution to begin with, the death would have been avoided.
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 kills 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 they lack intent.
In New Mexico, involuntary manslaughter is still a felony, and it is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
On top of that, Baldwin was the film’s executive producer, and he had additional control of the situation and responsibility. Saying that you killed someone because you hired an incompetent staffer, especially if the above headlines of previous problems occurring prove accurate, isn’t going to offer you much protection. Imagine what liberal Democrat Alec Baldwin would say if a CEO of a major company that resulted in people’s deaths tried to defend himself by saying he was just relying on statements from those underneath him?
People on social media are zeroing in on Baldwin’s past unsympathetic statements about others. One that has gotten a lot of attention is a Tweet where Baldwin attacked a Huntington Beach police officer for “wrongfully kill[ing] someone.” The officer was in a struggle with a suspect, and the suspect had just grabbed from the officer’s belt. Even the Los Angeles Times is more sympathetic to the officer, with the headline: “Video showing Huntington Beach officer fatally shooting suspect outside 7-Eleven doesn’t tell whole story, police say.”
Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen different standards of justice for Republicans and Democrats. It is still too early to judge this case, but I suspect most people would already be under arrest if they did what Baldwin did.
Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “Gun Control Myths.”
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