SAG-AFTRA issued a statement Thursday defending Alec Baldwin after the actor was indicted last week for involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
The union argued that Baldwin was not responsible for firearms safety, and that if the prosecution rests on such a responsibility, “that is an incorrect assessment of the actual duties of an actor on set.”
More from Variety
“An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert,” the union said. “Performers train to perform, and they are not required or expected to be experts on guns or experienced in their use. The industry assigns that responsibility to qualified professionals who oversee their use and handling in every aspect.”
Baldwin was holding a gun during preparation for a scene when it fired, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza. Baldwin has said that he did not pull the trigger, though the prosecution’s forensic experts concluded that the gun could only have been fired if the trigger was pulled.
Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the film’s armorer, is set to go on trial next month on separate charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering. She mistakenly loaded a live round into Baldwin’s gun, which should have contained only dummy rounds.
To prove involuntary manslaughter in either case, the prosecution will have to show “criminal negligence,” a higher standard than the ordinary negligence that would apply in a civil case. To rise to the level of criminal conduct, the behavior must be “reckless, wanton or willful” — not just careless.
In an interview with ABC News in December 2021, Baldwin said he had been trained not to point a gun at anyone and fire.
“I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger,” he said. “That was the training that I had.”
Baldwin was initially charged in January 2023, but those charges were dropped three months later. SAG-AFTRA also came to the actor’s defense at the time of the original charges, saying the prosecution’s theory was “wrong and uninformed.”
California passed a law last year that set training requirements for film armorers and codified set safety standards for firearm use. Prior to the legislation, the industry’s safety rules had been voluntary, and there was no requirement that armorers get training.
The bill was the result of a compromise between the industry and the entertainment unions.
Gutierrez Reed did not receive any formal training as an armorer before taking the “Rust” job, though her father, Thell Reed, is a veteran armorer. In her police interview, she also said she never saw the industry-wide safety bulletins that are supposed to be attached to call sheets.
The prosecutors on the original case also sought to hold Baldwin accountable as a producer for management lapses on set, in addition to alleged mishandling of the gun. The case has since been reassigned to two special prosecutors, Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis, who have not yet spelled out their theory of the case.
The full SAG-AFTRA statement:
To the extent that the charges filed on January 19 are based on an accusation of negligent use of a firearm predicated on this or any actor having a duty to inspect a firearm as part of its use, that is an incorrect assessment of the actual duties of an actor on set.
An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert. Firearms are provided for use on set under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm.
The Industry Standards for safety with firearms and use of blank ammunition are clearly laid out in Safety Bulletin 1, provided by the Joint Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Commission. The guidelines require an experienced, qualified armorer to be put in charge of all handling, use, and safekeeping of firearms on set. These duties include “inspecting the firearm and barrel before and after every firing sequence,” and “checking all firearms before each use.”
The guidelines do not make it the performer’s responsibility to check any firearm. Performers train to perform, and they are not required or expected to be experts on guns or experienced in their use. The industry assigns that responsibility to qualified professionals who oversee their use and handling in every aspect. Anyone issued a firearm on set must be given training and guidance in its safe handling and use, but all activity with firearms on a set must be under the careful supervision and control of the professional armorer and the employer.
Best of Variety