Alec Baldwin's criminal charges turn up the volume around conversation over gun safety on set


Attorney Mark Smith on Alec Baldwin charge: ‘Let the jury’ decide his fate

Constitutional attorney and Supreme Court bar member Mark Smith sees a situation where both Baldwin and the ‘Rust’ movie set armorer are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

New Mexico prosecutors on Thursday revealed that Alec Baldwin and film armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, an announcement that sent a shockwave through Hollywood.

The criminal charges also turned up the volume on the industry-wide conversation around gun safety on set, which has been ongoing since Hutchins, 42, was killed by a live round from a gun that the 64-year-old actor Baldwin was holding while rehearsing a scene for the Western movie "Rust."

"The gun safety experience on set has become more vocal, it’s a lot louder," armorer Joey Dillon told The Associated Press.

"I make it a lot louder myself," added Dillon, who supervises weapons for movies and television series including "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" and "The Highwaymen."

Alec Baldwin’s criminal charges have turned up the volume on the conversation around gun safety on set. (Jim Spellman/Getty Images / Getty Images)


Following Hutchins' on-set death, productions crews have explored various ways to ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again. 

Safety measures have ranged from replacing prop guns and gunfire entirely with digital effects and other technology to reinforcing existing weapons protocols and enhancing awareness of the status of guns on set.

Dillon told The Associated Press that he's noticed an increased wariness from actors handling weapons on set.

"Now people want to check because people are a little, a little gun-shy," he noted. "I’ll stop the whole process just to show them so that they feel comfortable with it."

The question of how much responsibility an actor bears while handling weapons on set is being hotly debated in the industry and will likely be central to the jury's deliberations if Baldwin's case goes to trial.

After the charges were announced, Baldwin's attorney called it a "terrible miscarriage of justice" and argued that his client "relied on the professionals with whom he worked" to ensure that the set was safe.

Halyna Hutchins was killed by a live round from a gun that Alec Baldwin was holding while rehearsing a scene for the Western movie “Rust.” (Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie | AP Photo/Jae C. Hong | Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for National Geographic / Fox News)

"This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice," Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel said Thursday in a statement to Fox News Digital.

"Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win."

The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists also defended Baldwin over the charges. "An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert," SAG-AFTRA said Thursday in a statement. 

"Firearms are provided for their use under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm."

Actor and former professional boxer Mickey Rourke slammed the charges on Instagram. "I usually never put my 2 cents in about what happens on someone’s movie set," the Academy Award nominee wrote along with a photo of Baldwin.

New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced the charges against Baldwin on Thursday. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

He continued, "It’s a terrible tragedy what happened to a cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. But no way in hell actor Alec Baldwin should be charged with any negligence whatsoever.

"Most actors don’t know anything about guns especially if they didn’t grow up around them. Alec didn’t bring the gun to the set from his house or his car, when weapons are involved on a movie set, the guns are supposed to he handled only by the 'weapon armor'." 

The "Wrestler" star went on to explain, "In some cases the 1st AD might pass a gun to an actor, but most of the time the gun is handed to the actor directly by the 'gun armor'. There’s what armor’s job is on the set. To have an expert around any type of dangerous weapon.


"The actor then has an option of dry firing the gun him or himself to double check. No way in hell should Alec Baldwin be blamed for this unfortunate tragedy. Why ‘the powers to be’ charging Baldwin with this responsibility is terribly wrong. I am sure Alec is already suffering enough over what happened. But to lay a blame on him is terribly terribly wrong."

Rourke concluded his post writing, "With my deepest condolences to Halyna Hutchins, to her family and her friends."

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New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who announced the charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, argued otherwise in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It is incumbent on anybody that holds a gun to make sure that it is either not loaded or to know what it is loaded with," she said.

"And certainly then to not point it at someone and pull the trigger. That’s where his actor liability, we think, comes in."

Carmack-Altwies also emphasized that while Baldwin is to be charged as the man with the gun in his hand, his role as a producer, and at least partial responsibility for the lax conditions that led to his having a loaded gun, were a consideration in deciding to bring the charges.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez-Reed's attorney Jason Bowles said in a statement that they would "bring the full truth to light and that she "will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury."


The increased use of technology on movie sets may take the safety question out of actors’ hands entirely. Productions were already using digital effects to simulate the flash and bang of gunfire more often, but Hutchins’ death has almost certainly sped the change along.

"There are a lot of bad ways that digital takes over, but this is a good way," said Spencer Parsons, an associate professor and head of production at Northwestern University in the School of Communication’s department of Radio/Television/Film.

Parsons, who has worked as a director and other roles on movie sets, continued, "I’m not saying that there’s no good reason to use real pyrotechnics, but in terms of basic safety and speed, this makes sense."

In addition, companies have been making increasingly convincing replicas of the necessary hardware, which are essentially enhanced BB guns with moving parts that behave like pistols but don’t fire bullets. 

Muzzle flashes and sounds that mimic real gunfire are added in postproduction.

The increased use of technology on movie sets may take the safety question out of actors’ hands entirely. (DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

However, Parsons noted that "there’s not a lot of replicas for some of the antique stuff" used in Westerns and other period movies.

Other solutions that have been sought for sets may be misguided, and may not help.

In the days immediately after the shooting, much media discussion surrounded the dangers of blank rounds in guns, based on the assumption that one of them killed Hutchins.

"From experience I knew it was more than that," Dillon said. "But the immediate reaction in the industry was to try to cancel the use of blanks altogether."

Dillon said dummy rounds, prop bullets used in scenes where characters are shown loading guns, are more likely to result in mistakes like what happened on "Rust," since they resemble live ammunition and could be confused with them.

He said he found that "frustrating because that can accidentally impart to the crew that we’ve been ignorant" and previously kept them in unnecessary danger.


When investigators revealed it was actually a live round, the fear of blanks, which can certainly be very dangerous at very close range, remained.

After the charges were announced, Baldwin’s attorney called it a “terrible miscarriage of justice” and argued that his client “relied on the professionals with whom he worked” to ensure that the set was safe. (Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for National Geographic / Getty Images)

Parsons said it was misguided to blame the fact that "Rust" was a small-budget independent production. He said the pace and length of large studio productions can put crews in positions where accidents of all kinds can become more likely.

"In some cases they can put people through even longer hours, and the need for speed is even greater," he said. "That can be very, very dangerous. The need for speed on any set incentives behavior that’s not always the best for safety."

Gutierrez-Reed’s dual role as armorer and assistant props supervisor has also received negative attention.

But Dillon said the overlap of weapons and props is inevitable, and such dual roles happen often. The crew members playing those roles just need to be utterly clear when they’re carrying out each one.

"When the guns come out, that’s all I’m worried about," he said, "and that’s all I’m working on."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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