Alec Baldwin Shooting: Breaking Every Rule of Gun Safety

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News reports tell us the Alec Baldwin shooting really happened. On the scene of the movie adaptation of the Nebula award-winning science fiction novel, Rust, Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed an assistant director of photographer and wounded another person.

Alec Baldwin after leaving the local sheriff's office

Film producers hire weapons handlers to take care of these issues. Public controversy still swirls around the event, with people both defending and accusing Baldwin and crew for their conduct and the resulting injuries. But how did this happen? No one knows for sure. Misinformation has spread like wildfire. And many people have been quick to point blame at Baldwin.

Instead of pointing blame, let’s review basic firearm safety and how Alec Baldwin could have prevented this tragic death.

Alec Baldwin Shooting and Mental Checklists

Safety is important and one of the best safety practices is to have a mental (or written) checklist for the issues you need to be concerned about. The purpose of having a checklist or routine is to prevent simple and common mistakes from going wrong

Airline pilots make checklists. Surgeons make checklists. Checklists make dangerous things safer.

Not unsurprising, gun owners also have their own checklist. And serious gun owners know them by heart.

The Four Rules of Gun Safety

The four rules of gun safety are:

  1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle point at anything that you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Always assume a gun is loaded

You should treat all guns as if they are always loaded. That is, unless you have personally checked and you know it.

An assistant director handed a Colt 45 pistol to Baldwin and declared it was a “cold gun”. On set, a “cold gun” means the gun has been cleared as safe to us. However, the assistant director did not himself check that the firearm was safe. Likewise, when he handed the gun to Baldwin, Baldwin did also not check to determine whether the firearm was safe.

Typically, whenever a person is handed a new firearm, they should check it personally and immediately. Baldwin didn’t personally check the firearm, and so he could not be sure it was safe to use.

Never point your target at something you don’t want to destroy

A firearm should always be pointed in a safe direction. This ensures that if an accident occurs–even if you thought the firearm was safe–that no person is injured. If nothing is in the path of the muzzle, then it can’t be injured

The film’s armorer said she went over with the actors that you should not point a gun at any person.

However, Baldwin actually did point the weapon during rehearsal at the director of photography. It’s not clear why he did that. But, it does violate one of the fundamental gun safety rules.

Keep your finger off the trigger

You can’t accidentally shoot someone if your finger isn’t on the trigger. This is sometimes known as “trigger discipline”. Firearms professionals and shooters learn to religiously keep their fingers off of the trigger until it is time to shoot at a target.

Once again, Baldwin was only rehearsing a scene. He had no reason to have his hand on the trigger at all–except that he thought the gun was safe to handle.

This is why checklists have multiple steps. Each step may protect against a failure in other steps, forming layers of protection.

Know what lies beyond your target

Firearms shoot small pieces of metal. If you miss your target, the bullet will continue past the target until it hits something else. Shooters know that they must be concerned about what is behind their target too.

While everyone knows that a person tragically died, fewer people realized that another crew member was seriously injured too. When Baldwin fired his gun, the bullet passed right through the director of photography, kept going, and then hit another crew member. If Baldwin had stopped to think, “There are two people in my line of fire,” maybe he would not have pulled the trigger at all.

So now what?

What happens to Baldwin or the other people involved remains to be seen. For now, it’s important that everyone knows that handling firearms comes with a responsibility to handle them in a safe manner.

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