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Regarding Alec Baldwin, We Are Embarrassing Ourselves

And now, from the “unpopular opinion” file, allow me to try to demonstrate an error in thinking that is plaguing the Right right now.

By now we all know that on the set of the movie “Rust”, actor Alec Baldwin pulled the trigger on a loaded weapon and a split-second later one person was dead and another seriously injured. Like most of you, I felt a momentary sense of “gotcha”, joyous that karma had caught up with the loud-mouthed lefty we all love to hate.

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I quickly came to my senses, and I’m begging all of you to do likewise.

Let me state this as unequivocally as I can; producer Alec Baldwin could be held to some account for this tragedy, and probably should be–but actor Alec Baldwin is as much a victim of it as those who suffered the effects of the bullet.

I can hear the “yeah, but” screams from my fellow gun owners/users right now, spouting the standard “final responsibility” and “first rule of gun safety” boilerplate. If we were discussing an ordinary situation with an ordinary person and an ordinary gun, all of those talking points would be valid. But we aren’t, and they’re all completely wrong.

The difference is the venue. This was a Hollywood movie set (in New Mexico), not a standard situation such as you and I might find ourselves in. While Alec Baldwin is an experienced actor with many scenes of gunplay within his resume, he’s very much not a proper “gun guy”. I point that out because it’s paramount to the points made below about Hollywood safety protocols that do exist, and why they exist in the way they do. Hollywood protocols must be followed the same way you and I would follow what we think of as typical safety procedures. Put simply, an actor on set must never follow “typical” safety protocols, but rather the specific ones applicable to the situation (movie-making) at hand.

I am as near to an expert with firearms as most will ever meet. I’ve got my certifications, own just about every type of firearm you could ever want, train with them, and train others. I supervise groups of shooters in assorted live-fire situations, including simulated battlefield engagements. I know the gun safety “code” front and back. I’ve been an active and avid shooter for four decades.

If I was hired to play a part on a movie and, on set, was handed a gun, I’d be justifiably fired if I racked the slide, ejected the magazine, or in any other way manipulated that weapon for any purpose other than what the scene specifically calls for. Were I to perform a “safety check” on a weapon that has been handed to me via the proper channels — channels that seem to have been in order with Baldwin — I’d be collecting my severance pay mere moments later. This is exactly how it should be.

Let me explain why (though it’s pretty basic, if you think about it).

These people are actors. They portray expert marksmen, well-versed gun handlers, etc., but they are playing a role. James Bond actor Roger Moore, who certainly had to look smooth and experienced with his famous Walther, was in fact terrified of guns and broke into a sweat even having to handle one on set. This was the guy who played The Saint before he stepped into the Bond role — another character both adept with and regularly accompanied by firearms of all varieties.

Actors are not gun guys. Many, and I daresay most, wouldn’t know a firing pin from a follower. These are not the people you want to depend on for safety with firearms on a movie set, and that’s exactly why they aren’t depended on for that or any other firearm-related role. They are there to look pretty for the camera while executing whatever activity is called for in the scene. Sometimes that action involves firearms. 

There are people on the set who are responsible for making sure those firearms are kept and utilized in a safe manner, specifically taking into account the needs of the scene and how it will be shot. They are by necessity and by the established safety protocols entirely responsible for providing a safe weapon and ensuring that it is utilized in a safe manner consistent with the needs of the scene.

You and I know our weapons. Most of us only have a few, and virtually all of them are just one configuration. I can disassemble my sidearm completely, and reassemble it, in under half a minute, blindfolded. This is not uncommon among proper gun enthusiasts and combat-ready people.

On a movie set, the very same weapon may actually not be the very same at all. It will look the same, feel the same, but will not function the same. Barrels may be different — from solid, for scenes that do not involve firing, to electrical/gas fired for scenes that demand the “look” of a fired weapon but for which an actual round would be inappropriate. If I, Mr. Gun Expert, attempted to safety-check one of these “flamers” (for instance) before my scene, I could damage an expensive prop, hurt myself or someone else, and set the production back an hour or more while the weapon is restored to operational. This particular class of “readied” weapon is so sophisticated it is programmed by computer, and isn’t something that could be safety-checked by anyone on set other than the person preparing it for duty.

The same goes for ammunition; some are blank, some are “heroic” (meant to look real, but not actually containing powder or primer) and some are of the “snap cap” variety, to allow for the action of live fire without an actual live round. Here’s a Hollywood secret; when you see an actor, say, loading a magazine with “heroic” rounds and popping that mag into the weapon, the fact is that the majority of the time those rounds don’t even fit the gun in question. They simply won’t “chamber”. This is a safety precaution, in case Roger Moore accidentally racks that slide and his sweaty hands pull the trigger.

Speaking of the trigger, what about “trigger safety” and all the other precautions we take, like the cardinal rule of “don’t aim at something you don’t intend to shoot”?

Again, in real life that’s absolutely the proper approach, but in the movies things are done specifically for appearance. Sometimes that appearance includes, say, pointing the gun at the camera and pulling the trigger (as was the case with the Baldwin shooting). This is not even an uncommon shot. It is precisely because of the danger of shots such as this, though, that specific movie-production safety protocols exist to cover them. The responsibility for making sure those protocols are followed never falls to the actor. And it shouldn’t. It can’t.

The safety of every single firearm, or mock firearm, on a movie set is tasked to just one or two people in the production, and absolutely nobody else (especially the actor who will be handed the weapon) should ever overstep that process. Over the course of a single production, an individual actor may handle ten different configurations of the same weapon, and may handle ten different weapons. Even experienced “gun guys” may not know the proper way to utilize (let alone safely) such an array. Making sure those weapons are properly functional, properly loaded (or not), and properly handled, is the job of someone specific to that task — not the actor. In fact an actor should never, for any reason, vary from that safety protocol.

In most cases it is the Armorer who is ultimately responsible to ensure that all safety requirements have been met prior to whatever weapon or type of weapon is entered into a scene. Occasionally this will pass to, say, an Assistant Director, maybe both, but those are the only people who should ever touch the gun prior to the actor receiving the weapon. The actor, from that point, does exactly what he’s told to do with it. Nothing more, and nothing less. Performing a “safety check”, for instance, would violate that safety protocol.

Alec Baldwin was handed a “cold gun”. All the evidence indicates this. He was told it was cold, the people on set were told it was cold, so procedurally it was cold. That’s how safety works in Hollywood. Obviously the gun wasn’t cold, but by all proper methods of scene setup and actor utilization of the weapon in question, that gun was ready to be used in the way the scene required. Alec Baldwin the actor was a victim in the shooting as soon as he pulled the trigger. He may not have paid the ultimate price, but he was a victim nonetheless.

Alec Baldwin the producer, on the other hand, may be in some hot water. There were clearly safety issues on set. The armorer appears to have been inexperienced and possibly in over her head. The Assistant Director seems to have been very cavalier with safety rules, and reports indicate his arrogance and carelessness led many to believe that he was an accident waiting to happen. Baldwin the producer may be held responsible for any or all of these realities, because each contributed to (or at least indicated the possibility of) the accident that wound up taking a life. This is potentially negligent, and that’s the kind of charge that usually finds its way to the top of the financial “food chain” in circumstances such as these.

But Alec Baldwin the actor is no more responsible for what happened than a passenger on the Titanic was responsible for the ship sinking.

One more thing. A “cold gun” to you is not the same as a “cold gun” to a Hollywood set. If a movie-making gun is “cold”, it is not merely unloaded — it is not capable of firing a projectile. This may be an actual dummy gun (which won’t survive a “closeup”), or an otherwise operational weapon that has some barrel obstruction or firing mechanism block to render it incapable of live fire. Baldwin the actor was handed a “cold gun”; it was announced to both him and the director when it was handed to him. All of you saying “trigger safety” and “muzzling”, etc., should bear in mind that firstly that isn’t realistic on a movie set, and secondly that as far as what was handed to Baldwin, that weapon may as well have been carved out of wood as far as actor and set people were concerned. A cold gun cannot hurt anyone, and everyone on set believed that was what was in play at that moment.

Like most of you, I despise Alec Baldwin. There was even, I’m ashamed to admit, a momentary glee that followed news of the gun-hating loudmouth being involved in a shooting incident. It’s sad when our hatred and distrust for opinions and ideologies that are different from our own — and even, maybe especially, for the people who espouse those opinions — allow us to silence our inner angels and revel in another’s misfortune in such a way. We should all feel some shame in the way Baldwin, who is a victim in this situation, is being abused by our side over this tragedy.

And that is the final “moral” of this essay; besides being wrong on almost every level, celebrating the situation by taking some high-horse position of “gun safety” and the like is even more wrong, because it ignores actual safety as it is practiced on movie sets. Had those safety procedures been followed by the people charged with following them, this tragedy wouldn’t have occurred.

Alec Baldwin was not one of those people.

By Jackson P. Chamberlain

Jackson P. Chamberlain is a right-leaning, liberty-loving husband and father whose American heritage dates back nearly four hundred years. He writes from his home at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. He can be found on GETTR @jpchamberlain, or on MeWe as Jackson Chamberlain. He does not do Facebook or Twitter.

Featured image is a screengrab from CNN.