Breaking the Four Universal Safety Rules: Alec Baldwin Incident

On Thursday, October 21 Alec Baldwin (an actor on a movie set) broke every rule we teach our students about gun safety. We also teach that firearms safety is the responsibility of every individual to who uses a gun. No matter what the purpose might be. In this case the safety issue bears even more weight because the actors are handling firearms that can fire live rounds in environments where people are actively involved their work all around the firing area. It is an accident looking for a place to happen. 

However, considering how many simulated rounds that are fired in modern movies the “accidental” shooting is quite rare. In a hundred years of filming gun fights the industry has developed a strong history of safe practices. This incident on the set of a movie titled Rust, co-produced by Alec Baldwin (which adds another layer of responsibility) is quite troubling, however.

All the details are not in, and I am not a lawyer. I am not trying to blame or accuse, however the facts as we know them three days after the incident say something went horribly wrong on that set. 

I have done some quick research on the firearms protocols recommended on movie sets and a couple of obvious things stand out right away. For instance: Live rounds are not permitted on site, period. It appears that there was a projectile (bullet) that left the muzzle of the gun Mr. Baldwin was given. Maybe we will discover it is similar to Brandon Lee’s accidental shooting during the filming of Crow in 1993. In that incident a “prop” cartridge (brass casing with bullet set, but no primer or propellant) was loaded into the chamber of the pistol for a scene, when the cartridge was ejected the bullet remained in barrel. The absent bullet was not caught by armorer. When the pistol was used to do the scene for the shot fired, armorer did not check to ensure barrel was clear (a step in current protocols) loaded blank round behind it. When the blank was fired it propelled the bullet out of the barrel with more than enough force to kill a person at close range. It appears that a projectile (maybe a bullet) left the muzzle with enough force to pass through Ms. Hutchins, the Cinematographer, and then struck and penetrated the Director, Joel Souza with enough force to keep him in the hospital for a couple of days.

Again, we don’t know all the facts yet. But let’s look at the Universal Safety Rules for Firearms and see if this could have been avoided. (Especially when the Film industry gun safety protocols are supposed to be in place.)

The Four Universal Safety Rules in the order I prefer to teach them are:

Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded!

We always, always, always treat a firearm as if it is loaded: Period! The media wants to keep calling the firearm that Mr. Baldwin was given a “prop” or “prop-gun”. They are real guns capable of killing people. They are not props! They are firearms and should be treated as such. ALWAYS TREAT A FIREARM AS IF IT IS LOADED!

Never point a firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy!

This gets us to the next problem. Movie protocols are clear about where crew members won’t be when firearms are on the set during filming – “down range” or in front of the muzzle. The Armorer and crew will carefully set up the scene to keep people from in front of the muzzle. Normally a remote-controlled camera will film the sequence that is done when actor is facing camera. If, for some reason, filming requires a cameraman behind the camera a screen capable of stopping flash, hot gasses, powder and possibly debris from striking cameraman will be erected. These screens are not meant to stop a bullet fired from a live round, however.

Always keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until on target and you have made the decision to shoot!

This one is more difficult because Mr. Baldwin may have been shooting the scene where he is firing towards the camera to make the scene look like a shot towards the audience. That would put him at “gun raised, target in sights, finger to trigger and press” for the show. We default back to number 2. above – persons (at least three, it appears) were behind the camera and in front of the muzzle – “down range”.

Know your target and what is around it.

Mr. Baldwin’s target should have been “nothing” or maybe a dummy. In real life, even if the scene was set up to convince the audience he was shooting at a “bad guy” the targets were not living, breathing film crew humans!

There is an ongoing investigation. The people who do these sorts of investigations are quite good at piecing the sequence of events back together again. At some point we will have a much better understanding how this tragic event played out. 

The point to end on is that firearms are tools, not toys. Actors are acting, I get it. But the rules set out over a hundred years, or more, are time tested. As I pointed out above firearms safety is the responsibility of every person who uses them, no matter what the purpose might be.

Be Safe, Learn correct handling and maintenance, and have Fun. . .