So, Alec Baldwin, actor, political shouty person, anti-gun activist and generally an arse (for many reasons, and certainly not the only, nor indeed the biggest arse in Hollywood) accidentally shot a woman on set and killed her. Using a ‘prop gun’ that was loaded with a real bullet.
Naturally the internet has instantly polarised into two camps, because politics. On one side, the argument that he had no reason to suspect that a stage weapon was loaded with anything other than blanks. On the other, the argument that he was responsible for ensuring he handled the weapon safely, no matter what he thought it was loaded with. Who is right?
Well… since I won’t join in the polarisation, I’m going to say both. To an extent. I hear he is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, which seems fair. He didn’t know the gun was loaded with live rounds but he did point the gun and pull the trigger. However, in mitigation, he would have expected the props department to have ensured he wasn’t carrying a live gun on set. That doesn’t make him innocent, but it should reduce the severity of any sentence.
Let’s try an analogy. I drive a car, and in the UK (and I suspect most other countries) the roadworthiness of the car is the driver’s responsibility. Whether you own it, rent it or borrow it, even if it’s provided by your work, making sure it’s safe to be on the road is the driver’s responsibility. So even if it’s a rental car, if there is no tread on the tyres, the driver is the one who gets fined. It’s up to you to check it over before you drive it.
Never mind the engine, or the exploding batteries in the new street dodgems. Nobody could be expected to foresee everything – but brakes, tyres, fluid levels… these are really not difficult to check and should be done regularly anyway. Not just once a year at MOT.
So let’s put Alec Baldwin in the driver’s seat here. Let’s say he’s just picked up his car from the garage where he’d had the brakes serviced. It would be reasonable for him to expect those brakes to now be in perfect condition, since the mechanic (analogous to the props manager) has assured him the work was done correctly.
Driving, he notices the brakes feel a little spongy but hey, they’ve just been fixed. It’ll just be the new pads bedding in. At the next junction the brakes fail – the bleed nipples were left loose and he’s been losing fluid – and he crashes into another car. Who gets the blame?
Legally, as the driver, he gets the blame. His insurance will have to pay out and his insurance premiums will go up as a result. If anyone is hurt, if it goes to court, he will stand as the accused. He was driving, it was his responsibility to ensure the car was safe to drive.
However, his lawyers will argue that he had just collected the car from a mechanic who assured him the brakes were now in perfect condition. The mechanic who didn’t properly tighten the bleed nipples is partly to blame. This won’t save him from the insurance claim, nor any driving charges that might come up, but it should reduce his punishment – fines or withdrawal of licence – because he quite reasonably assumed he had been handed a safe set of brakes. It would also likely finish the mechanic as a trustworthy servicing worker but that’s really a separate issue.
He didn’t intend to crash into the other car. He genuinely thought his brakes were safe but in a strict interpretation of the law, it was his responsibility to make sure those brakes were safe. So his insurance will pay out and he’ll take the hit at the next renewal. If there are any claims against him from the other party, he will lose. The other party, remember, is completely innocent in this incident. All he can do is mitigate the blame by saying an ‘expert’ had only just told him the brakes were fine and he had no reason to doubt that.
So I say, in relation to the gun incident, that both sides are right. He was on set, he had a gun he believed to be a prop, firing only blanks. There is absolutely no reason why any gun used in such a scenario would ever have live rounds in it. There is no reason why any live rounds should be anywhere on set. Alec Baldwin believed his prop manager when he was handed the gun, that it was loaded only with blanks.
On the other hand, he was the one holding the gun. I don’t have any live round guns, only ever handled two (a .22 live round rifle and a shotgun, once each) in my life and even I know this – you never assume a gun is safe. If you are holding it, you are responsible for it and responsible for any consequences arising from its misuse. The gun he had, although called a ‘prop’, was quite clearly real and (he thought) loaded with blanks. Why it was loaded with live rounds is open to question, obviously it should not have been, but it was capable of firing live rounds and really, he should have known that.
It is fair to say he was not expecting it to have live rounds in it, but even so – pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger is always, always a very silly thing to do. Even if you are absolutely sure it’s not loaded. The day might come when you are wrong about that. As it did for Alec. Especially with modern guns. You can’t see the bullets and even if you take out the magazine, there could still be a live round in the chamber.
I don’t, as I said, have any guns. My particular preference is bows, crossbows and bladed weapons. The most powerful crossbow I have is 175 lbs draw weight, which will penetrate a standard car door with ease. It’s easy to tell if it’s loaded, because your fingers will still be hurting from drawing it into firing position and the bolt will be visible. At that point, I am extremely careful where I point it.
It is not safe to point it upwards since it will fire that bolt quite some distance and if one of the local farmers finds it embedded in a cow or a sheep’s back, he’s not going to be very pleased with me. It’s only safe to hold it pointing downwards and if that means a misfire buries the bolt in the ground, or even if the bolt slides out and I damage the bow with a dry fire, that’s better than letting a wild bolt loose into the air.
Even the smaller 50 and 80 lb crossbows can do serious damage, even kill someone. Those are much easier to load and yet require exactly the same safety protocols as the powerful one. Again, it is quite clear when they are loaded, but even when they are not, I don’t wave them around randomly. That’s a bad habit to get into. If you do it unloaded, one day you will do it loaded.
It’s not really the same, I know. I couldn’t possibly ‘accidentally’ fire a bow I could claim I thought was ‘unloaded’. It’s similar in that I would never aim a loaded crossbow, or even a standard bow with an arrow nocked and drawn, at someone. A crossbow safety can slip, your fingers can slip on a string, when dealing with anything dangerous you never assume safety. Same with the bladed weapons – swords, axes etc. You do not ‘show off’ by waving them around. My wood axe will split a log with a casual one handed swing. You really don’t want anyone in the way.
So while I don’t think Alec Baldwin should get off scot free – he did kill someone, after all – I can see mitigating circumstances around the case. He was an idiot to point his gun at someone even though he thought it only contained blanks, but he was acting on a film set and had no reason to believe the gun contained anything but blanks. He is anti-gun so it’s reasonable to assume he has no real idea about gun safety. He’s an actor so probably has little idea about the real world at all.
I’ll admit I’m not a fan. Of him, nor of any of his compatriots who have spouted off politically over recent years. On either side. You are actors. Politics is not your job. Just stick to what you know. Our politicians are bad enough at politics without the rest of you encouraging them.
Still, the polarisation in the response to this is clearly political. One side wants him jailed forever, the other side wants him exonerated entirely, and I have to say that I feel this man is now in a position many have found themselves in in recent years. Piggy in the middle. Does he deserve it? Maybe. That’s not for me to judge.
The question nobody seems to be asking, the question I’d have thought was paramount, is…
Why was there a live round in a prop gun in the first place?
And… was it accidental?