Baldwin charged with involuntary manslaughter in ‘Rust’ set shooting

Actor Alec Baldwin, pictured here at the 2016 Comic-Con International, now faces charges of involuntary manslaughter after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust.”

Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Actor Alec Baldwin, pictured here at the 2016 Comic-Con International, now faces charges of involuntary manslaughter after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust.”

Award-winning actor Alec Baldwin now faces charges of two counts of involuntary manslaughter after firing a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust” in October 2021.

Despite the charges, Hollywood is rallying behind the actor. According to the Huffington Post, SAG-AFTRA, a union representing over 100,000 entertainment industry workers, released a statement defending the actor on Jan. 19.

 “The prosecutor’s contention that an actor has a duty to ensure the functional and mechanical operation of a firearm on a production set is wrong and uninformed,” the statement read. “An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert.”

Guilford College junior and history major Seth Jeffries is among those who don’t agree with the charges.  “I do not think he should be charged with involuntary manslaughter because he had no intention of harming another person and was under the impression that the gun was a prop and would cause no bodily harm,” Jeffries said.  

While most of the media attention surrounding the shooting is on Baldwin, he is not the only person receiving backlash. According to the Huffington Post, Santa Fe district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced on Jan. 19 that assistant director David Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed would also be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. These charges could result in prison sentences from 18 months to five years if the three are found guilty. 

Prosecutors believe that they have a solid case against Baldwin and can prove that his actions were negligent. According to a Slate article by Joel Zivot, “prosecutors have decided that a gun requires a ‘duty of care’—the historic legal standard violated in negligence cases—that’s extremely high. They claim that, as the gun’s handler, Baldwin acted in egregious disregard of its potential dangers. In the law, this is referred to as ‘the neighbor principle’: We owe a duty to our neighbors, and in this case, Baldwin shot his neighbor, Halyna Hutchins.”

However, it is still unclear who is at fault for Hutchins’s death. When asked if Baldwin was the responsible party, Will Pizio, a professor of justice and policy studies at Guilford, said, “Yes and no. Whenever you use a gun, you are responsible for checking to see whether or not it is loaded. However, the question in this specific case pertains to negligence. 

“Additionally, there are protections and protocols in place so that actors, like Baldwin, are not held responsible for these types of occurrences. However, Baldwin was the one to pull the trigger, and we do not know the full extent of the events that took place that day,”  Pizio said. He added that policies regarding the use of firearms on film and television sets are bound to change as a result of this case.

Throughout this entire chain of events, Baldwin has maintained his innocence. According to Vox, the actor sued the film’s crew for negligence in an effort to clear his name. In a December 2021 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Baldwin said, “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them. Never…Someone put a live bullet in a gun, a bullet that wasn’t even supposed to be on the property.” 

While the actor clings to his innocence, he still reached a settlement with the Hutchins family in their wrongful death lawsuit, according to Katie Couric Media.

Katie Couric Media also spoke with James Brosnahan, who served as lead defense attorney for the studio that made the movie “The Crow” when actor Brandon Lee was shot and killed on the set of the film. 

Brosnahan said that he is certain that this case will be settled in court. “Baldwin’s state of mind establishes that at no time did he think there was a live bullet in the gun that had been handed to him. The defense might say, ‘We showed you how many times he’s fired guns in (other movies). But on each of those times, he was handed a gun with blanks. That’s what movie stars do all the time.”