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After Baldwin Charges in ‘Rust’ Shooting, Actors Worry About Gun Safety


The news that Alec Baldwin is facing manslaughter charges for killing a cinematographer with a gun he had been told was secure had the actor Steven Pasquale considering back to the filming of “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” greater than a decade ago, when he and other actors were handed military-style rifles and told to begin shooting.

He felt secure, he said, because he relied on the skilled props experts and the armorer who had checked and shown him the gun.

“We’re artists — we aren’t actual cowboys, actual cops, actual superheroes,” Mr. Pasquale said. “We aren’t Jason Bourne. I can’t even begin to assume an actor having the responsibility of now needing to be the security person on the set regarding prop guns. That’s insane.”

The fees being brought against Mr. Baldwin for an on-set shooting had many actors recalling their very own experiences with guns on sets, and discussing safety measures and who bears primary responsibility for them.

The actor Michael Chiklis, who has starred in television police dramas including “The Commish” and “The Shield,” called the shooting “a tragic accident” and said that “moving forward there is completely no reason to make use of an actual firearm on set ever again.”

The case, during which prosecutors in Recent Mexico maintain that Mr. Baldwin bore responsibility for ensuring that the gun he was handed on the set of “Rust” was secure, has prompted a debate throughout the film industry over gun safety and protocols. SAG-AFTRA, a union representing film employees, said the responsibility lay not with actors but with trained professionals. Actors and armorers described various experiences with guns on sets, with some actors exercising the next level of caution than others.

Mr. Baldwin faces two charges of involuntary manslaughter within the shooting death of the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed on Oct. 21, 2021, when the revolver he was rehearsing with — which he had been told was “cold,” meaning it shouldn’t have contained any live ammunition — suddenly fired.

The district attorney for Santa Fe County, Mary Carmack-Altwies, said in an interview on Thursday that she planned to argue in court that Mr. Baldwin didn’t take “due caution or circumspection” when he drew an old-fashioned revolver from its holster, that he must have ensured the gun didn’t contain live rounds and that he shouldn’t have pointed the weapon on the cinematographer. She said forensic evidence showed that Mr. Baldwin had pulled the trigger; Mr. Baldwin has denied that, saying the gun discharged unexpectedly after he pulled the hammer back and let it go.

Because the case moves forward, the norms and practices within the film and tv industry will quite likely take center stage. Industry standards say that nobody ought to be issued a firearm without being trained in safety, but that the responsibility for checking guns before each use lies with the prop master or designated weapons handler.

Kirk Acevedo, an actor who has worked extensively with weapons on shows like “Band of Brothers” and within the film “The Thin Red Line,” said it was typical for a movie’s armorer, who’s answerable for guns and ammunition on set, to open a gun and reveal to the actor that it was empty. Mr. Acevedo said that while he owned guns and had experience with them, many actors lacked the expertise to examine firearms on their very own. In some cases, he noted, the actors are children.

“It’s not me,” he said, referring to who has the responsibility. “It may well’t be me. If you have got never fired a weapon before, how would you already know the best way to do all of that? For some people, it’s hard to even pull back the slide.”

The armorer on “Rust,” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, can also be facing charges of involuntary manslaughter. Considered one of her lawyers, Jason Bowles, said she can be exonerated.

Mr. Baldwin has asserted in interviews and court filings that expecting an actor to take the initiative to examine a gun will not be standard practice. His lawyer Luke Nikas said he also can be exonerated, calling the prosecution a “terrible miscarriage of justice.”

SAG-AFTRA said in a press release that industry guidelines “don’t make it the performer’s responsibility to examine any firearm.”

Approaches to firearm safety vary on sets.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who played a Recent York City police captain on the ABC drama “Castle” and now plays an officer on the CBS police drama “East Recent York,” said he had set strict rules for himself since appearing in a play where a blank was fired so close to a different actor at a rehearsal that it nearly damaged the actor’s eardrum.

“It’s OK to harass people by how much you check and recheck the gun,” Mr. Santiago-Hudson said.

He said he made sure to never point a gun directly at one other person — a degree of contention within the “Rust” case.

Mr. Baldwin told ABC News after the shooting that he had pointed the gun toward Ms. Hutchins only because he had been told it was “cold” and he was being directed to achieve this.

“I got countless people online saying, ‘You idiot, you never point a gun at someone,’” Mr. Baldwin said within the interview. “Well, unless you’re told it’s empty, and it’s the director of photography who’s instructing you on the angle for a shot we’re going to do.”

Days after the shooting, which also wounded the director of “Rust,” Joel Souza, investigators interviewed considered one of the movie’s actors, Jensen Ackles, who told them that he does inspect his guns on set himself.

“I just at all times do my very own personal checks since it’s a sensible thing to do,” Mr. Ackles told the police, in response to footage of the interview. But he noted that he didn’t expect his peers to do the identical, telling the detectives that if actors were the ultimate line of defense in the security of a movie set then he “wouldn’t trust 99.9 percent of the people I work with.”

Ms. Carmack-Altwies said she wouldn’t expect Mr. Baldwin to personally check every round that was loaded into the gun, but that she would expect him to make certain that somebody had checked them.

It was Dave Halls, the movie’s first assistant director, who had proclaimed the gun “cold” that day, in response to court papers. Talking to investigators, Mr. Halls said that Ms. Gutierrez-Reed had opened the gun that day for him but that he didn’t inspect each round individually. Mr. Halls has agreed to a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.

Ms. Gutierrez-Reed told investigators that she did check each of the six cartridges within the gun, but remarked at one point, “I wish I might’ve checked it more.”

Legal experts said successfully prosecuting the costs against Mr. Baldwin would require the district attorney to reveal that he behaved negligently. Joshua Kastenberg, a criminal law professor on the University of Recent Mexico and a former prosecutor, said he could see an argument being made that Mr. Baldwin might need didn’t act in a way to guard others.

One challenge for prosecutors will likely be that Mr. Baldwin was told the gun didn’t contain live ammunition. James J. Brosnahan, a lawyer who represented the production company behind the movie “The Crow” after the actor Brandon Lee was fatally shot on set, said Mr. Baldwin’s mind-set on the time that he took the gun from Mr. Halls would probably be crucial for a judge or a jury.

“If an individual goes to be negligent, you’ve got to prove that they knew something they usually proceeded anyway,” Mr. Brosnahan said, giving an example that “they knew the speed limit was 70 miles per hour they usually went 100.”

Prosecutors didn’t file criminal charges after Mr. Lee, the son of the martial-arts star Bruce Lee, was shot at with a gun that was purported to fire only blanks.

The “Rust” case has already began to reshape the film industry. Dwayne Johnson — the motion star whose production company has made gun-filled movies just like the “Fast & Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” — has said that the corporate would not use real guns on set.

But some are skeptical that one case has the ability to alter the industry significantly.

Victor Talmadge, director of the theater studies program at Mills College at Northeastern University, and an actor who has worked with guns on set, said that future movies might make greater use of computer graphics or require more training with guns for actors, but that he didn’t think real guns would disappear from the film business.

“The thought of the gun-toting character — that mythic model in American culture — I don’t know if that goes away as a symbolic image on the screen,” he said.

Brooks Barnes, Adam Nagourney and Remy Tumin contributed reporting.

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