The controversy over Alec Baldwin and Rust dangerously misses the point about gun safety

America’s real Wild West is not film sets of westerns, it is our schools, streets, shops, and places of worship

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 20 January 2023 22:10 GMT
Alec Baldwin to face involuntary manslaughter charge over Halyna Hutchins Rust shooting

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


It is entirely understandable for the family of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins to welcome the charges brought against Alec Baldwin.

It’s unclear if the actor will be convicted of involuntary manslaughter over his alleged recklessness on the set of Rust that led to the accidental death of 42-year-old Hutchins.

Hutchins’ husband, Matthew, said that amid the grief and pain and chaos that has emerged from the film set in New Mexico on Oct 21 2021, the fact the authorities were set to charge the 64-year-old Baldwin, and armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 25, was a “comfort”. Nobody should be above the law. And if all the focus on the case helps lead to greater safety on film sets and avoid a repeat of such tragedies, then everyone benefits.

At that point, surely, we need to stop and ask ourselves: are we not missing a much bigger point? Is all that talk about what happened on that set distracting us from something far more dangerous -- namely some Americans’ utter obsession with firearms, and the nation’s collective failure to properly regulate those weapons?

The plain truth is, people don’t get shot dead on films set. Or at least, they do very occasionally, such as in the case of  Hutchins, and Brandon Lee, who died after being struck by a stun gun while filming the movie The Crow in 1993.

There are other fatalties, and non-lethal accidents, while makiing films. Yet these tragedies are not common, so much so that when, in the aftermath of Hutchins’ death, the Associated Press was forced to search back decades for a piece on other notable set accidents.

Far more common are shooting deaths in America’s streets and schools and grocery stores, where people are routinely shot and killed, almost always by young men who feel aggrieved or left out or depressed.

Far more common too, are the suicides or attempted suicides that can lead to devastating injuries that can maim and harm for life.

A few weeks ago, there was brief outcry when a six-year-old boy took a gun into his school in Newport News, Virginia, putting it in his backpack as casually as one might pack their lunch. He shot his 25-year-old teacher, Abby Zwerner. Thankfully, she lived.

That incident was not alone. In 2021, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley shot and killed four student at his high school in suburban Detroit with a gun his parents had bought for him.

Others get caught up in random shootings.

Every day, America is rocked by such horror, from large headline-grabbling incidents such as the massacre at Ulvade, Texas, or the El Paso Walmart, to numerically smaller, but no less individually tragic. These are the stories that fill the local news.

It is estimated there are 400 million firearms in America, more than one for every single person, and they are used to devastating effect.

A musician plays violin behind photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honour
A musician plays violin behind photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honour (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 19,384 gun murders, the most since at least 1968. A further 24,000 people killed themselves with guns, according to statistics from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just think about it: at least 44,000 Americans were killed in a single year, and with honorable exceptions to the activists and community groups who fight on incident after horrific incident, most of us do nothing about.

Instead, we have politicians such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott bragging about protecting the second amendment even as the bodies pile up.

You have situations where people seeking elected office argue that any American aged 18 or over should have access to the safe weapons as the military to protect the people against the alleged “tyranny” of the state,

Last year, Joe Biden and his supporters patted themselves on the back for signing a piece of gun safety regulation. It was feted as the most significant for 30 years, and yet everyone knows it was all but without teeth.

America’s real Wild West is not the film sets of westerns, it is our schools and streets and shops and places of worship. It is the playing fields close to the Capitol, where members of Congress got shot and perilously wounded.

It is clear this ought not to be a one thing or the other situation. America can work to address the way it thinks about guns and making them safe, while also improving standards on film sets and holding those responsible to account.

So, all credit to the family of Halyna Hutchins for pushing for justice in the case of their loved one. Let’s hope the case proves that nobody is above the law.

But if America is going to address its real gun problem, it needs to engage with a cold sharp dose of reality.

If you are have thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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