If Alec Baldwin thinks that a teary-eyed conversation with his Hampton’s buddy George Stephanopoulos of ABC News will somehow absolve him of criminal culpability in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins he is sorely mistaken.
During the interview set to air on Thursday, the actor claims, “The trigger wasn’t pulled. I did not pull the trigger. No, no, no, no, no, I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them.”
Setting aside the implausibility of his statement, it doesn’t matter under the law whether he pulled the trigger or the gun somehow fired on its own. Baldwin may think that it sounds good and exonerates him from any wrongdoing, but it’s largely irrelevant.
If he was being investigated for an intent crime such as murder, then yes, it would matter. But it’s not that kind of case. Authorities appear to be examining a potential gross negligence charge. As such, they are scrutinizing his handling of the gun before the fatal shot was fired. The trigger pull is immaterial.
If prosecutors determine that Baldwin’s conduct in the moments leading up to the shooting was reckless or grossly negligent, he can be prosecuted for the crime of involuntary manslaughter. In New Mexico, it’s defined as the failure to exercise “due caution” to protect the safety of others.
So the question then becomes…what “due caution” do actors exercise on movie sets where they use guns as props? What’s the standard of proper care in the industry? What are actors taught to do to safeguard those around them?
The answer is found in the strict rules issued by the union representing them, known as Actors’ Equity Association. Their rules instruct actors to “Treat all guns as if they are loaded and deadly. Check the firearm every time you take possession of it.”
But that’s not all. The rules also required Baldwin to visually watch the armorer or prop master check the cylinders and barrel of the firearm to make sure that no bullet was inside the weapon before it was handed to the actor.
Did Baldwin watch the armorer or prop master inspect the firearm? Did he then check it himself? Apparently not. In the TV interview, Baldwin says he had no idea there was a bullet in the gun. There obviously was. Which means he failed to perform the gun safety checks as required.
Every actor knows they must follow these rules. They constitute important and accepted safety protocols within the movie industry. Actor, George Clooney, is on record saying, “Every single time I’m handed a gun on a set —every time they hand me a gun— I look at it, I open it, I show it to the person I’m pointing it to, we show it to the crew. Everyone does it. Everyone knows.”
Everyone, except Alec Baldwin. As a consequence, prosecutors may conclude that his failure to conform his conduct to the standards of safety expected in the industry rises to the level of recklessness or gross negligence and charge him accordingly.
But Baldwin could also be criminally charged for a different reason. He was the on-location producer. This means he assumed greater authority over the production and the added responsibility of ensuring the safety of the film crew.
Hiring a young, rookie armorer with almost no experience on movie sets in the handling of firearms seems reckless on its face.
But on top of that, Baldwin knew or should have known that there was already a dangerous situation on the set. Reportedly, there was a total of three mishaps involving fired guns during filming before Hutchins was killed. This put Baldwin on notice that there was a potentially deadly problem with guns and ammunition that jeopardized the crew.
A reasonably prudent producer would immediately halt production, investigate, and take aggressive steps to remedy the danger. But that didn’t happen.
Baldwin’s failure to protect his employees could lead to a manslaughter charge. Hiring unqualified people and failing to properly supervise what appears to be an out-of-control set involving deadly weapons is the definition of criminal behavior.
All the tears an actor can muster on television do not change these basic facts.