Celebrity Gun Loophole Closes as New Mexico Charges Alec Baldwin in ‘Rust’ Shooting

Gun Rights

New Mexico is pursuing charges, again, for involuntary manslaughter against an actor, Alexander “Alec” Baldwin, for a 2021 shooting death on the set of the film “Rust.” The outspoken gun-control advocate is alleged to have displayed “criminal disregard for safety” when handling a firearm.

“The charge is a fourth-degree felony,” the AP reports, “punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine under New Mexico law. The charges also include a provision that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offense was committed with a gun.”

“The dismissal against Mr. Baldwin,” one of the previous special prosecutors, Kari Morrissey, said in dismissing the charges last year, “will be temporary pending further investigation.” 

The new team is now exercising that option, testing Mr. Baldwin’s insistence, “In all my years, I’ve never been handed a hot gun,” a statement he repeated several times after the shock of the shooting.

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Candles are placed around a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil held in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on October 23, 2021, at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Both Mr. Baldwin and the armorer on “Rust,” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, are being prosecuted for the death of the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. The assistant director, David Halls, has already agreed to a guilty plea for negligence.  

A special prosecutor on the case, Andrea Reeb, cited a “pattern of criminal disregard for safety” on the set. “If any one of these three people — Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, or David Halls — had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple.”

Mr. Halls handed Mr. Baldwin the loaded pistol, meant to be a harmless prop. A single bullet killed Hutchins and wounded the director, Joel Souza. Increasing Mr. Baldwin’s liability, he was executive producer of “Rust,” not just there to read lines.

Mr. Baldwin told investigators last year that the gun discharged when he pulled the hammer back and let it go. He relied on Ms. Gutierrez-Reed to ensure blanks were used, but as executive producer, he bears some accountability for controlling the independent production’s very tight budget, which may have contributed to serious safety lapses on set.

“The production cut corners to cut costs,” according to employees, as I wrote in the Washington Times after the shooting. By hiring a non-union crew to pinch pennies and glorifying shoot ’em ups, Mr. Baldwin violated two left-wing articles of faith. The crew had reportedly been so frustrated by the parsimonious budgeting of the shoot that many of them were about to quit at the time of the shooting.

“Rust” hired in Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, I wrote, “an armorer who said she was ‘nervous’ and unsure if she was ready for the job.” One veteran armorer, Larry Zanoff, told the New York Times, “The safety guidelines that we live by on television and movie sets prohibit the use of live ammunition” such as was present on “Rust” — and was allegedly confused with the blanks.

The case will test a slogan popularized by the NRA: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Prosecutors will argue that point and that ultimate responsibility lies with the owner of the finger on the trigger. Mr. Baldwin has made such points in the past in seeking to limit the number of weapons in private hands.

“The Second Amendment is not a moral credit card that buys you all the guns you want,” Mr. Baldwin said as a member of the No Rifle Association Initiative in 2018. “That law needs to be rethought.” The Second Amendment, of course, is no mere law. It guards against the government infringing on one of the oldest rights, to keep and bear arms. 

Mr. Baldwin and others at Hollywood have reduced firearms to a plot device to solve problems: Gun ex machina. Expect Second Amendment advocates to point out that his professed concern for reducing gun violence didn’t dissuade him from producing yet another revenge fantasy where disputes are resolved with a hail of bullets.

Mr. Baldwin may yet enjoy the celebrity loophole bought with high-priced legal talent. He’ll also benefit from being a left-wing partisan. In 1998, he said that a Republican congressman of Illinois, Henry Hyde, ought to be “stoned to death” along with his family. He also pled guilty to assault charges in 2019 and sought anger management therapy.

Such behavior would get Mr. Baldwin tossed out of a responsible gun club and might get him banned from owning firearms under the red-flag laws that Second Amendment foes favor. Yet had he followed a basic rule of firearms safety — treat every weapon as if it’s loaded — he might never have aimed the kill shot while hurrying to meet a production schedule slashed to save cash.

Regardless of whether Mr. Baldwin is found liable for the death of Hutchins, he is already a changed man. Will this transformation result in newfound respect for responsible, legal gun owners? In Hollywood, anything is possible, even actors who practice what they preach.

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