Is Baldwin guilty? “Rust” film shooting leaves question hanging

Actor Alec Baldwin has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter after a film rehearsal went terribly wrong. Baldwin’s new film, “Rust”, tells the story of a thirteen year old boy who goes on the run with his grandfather after being sentenced to hang. The film is a western set in the 1800’s which began filming in Santa Fe, New Mexico in October, 2021. Baldwin is the producer, and he stars as a lead actor in the film.  

On October 21, 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a “cross drawing” scene, which required him to practice pointing a Colt .45 revolver towards the camera lens. According to a search warrant affidavit, first assistant director David Halls handed one of three prop-guns to Baldwin while proclaiming “cold gun”, to let the crew know a gun with no live rounds was being used. The prop-guns were set up by the set armorer in charge of weapons, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. According to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department, when Baldwin attempted to point the gun at the camera, the gun discharged, and a bullet struck cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, in the chest and film director, Joel Souza, in the shoulder. During an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Baldwin stated that he would never point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. He claimed that he and Hutchins were going over how she wanted to position his hand before the gun misfired, that he did not pull the trigger. An FBI investigator report stated that “the revolver could not be made to fire without a pull of the trigger.”[1] Investigations have not discovered how the live rounds ended up on set or in the revolver. David Halls told investigators that he did not check all of the rounds when he was given the revolver to inspect before handing it over to Baldwin.[2] Baldwin’s attorney claims that Baldwin did not know and had no reason to know that there was live ammo on set.

On the day of the shooting, Joel Souza said that filming started late because members of the crew had quit that morning. One crew member told Good Morning America that he walked off the set due to poor working conditions, housing issues, and complaints about gun safety.[3] There had been two previous accidental discharges days before Hutchins was killed. Crew members stated that safety concerns weren’t addressed even after the accidental discharges.

In April 2022, the New Mexico Environment Department’ Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) found that the crew “willfully violated” safety rules and “demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety” which led to the shooting death of Hutchins. Their report detailed how gun safety procedures were not being followed and the film management’s team did not correct any issues they were aware of. “Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety,” said Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.” Rust Movie Productions, LLC was fined $136,793, the maximum allowed by New Mexico law for the safety violations.[4]

Attorneys for armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stated that the production limited the amount of time and resources she could attend to her armorer duties, and she couldn’t conduct her job effectively. In addition to her job duties as armorer, she was assigned to assist as the props department supervisor and could only allocate so many hours to each position. OHSB determined that the production failed to call Hannah in to perform her armorer duties and inspect the firearm that Baldwin used for rehearsals.[5] Court documents stated that even though Baldwin was a producer on the film, he solely handled creative aspects and he had nothing to do with hiring of crew positions or the film’s budget and allocation of crew hours; those areas were managed by Rust Productions, LLC.[6]

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed have both been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. In New Mexico, involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawfully killing of another human being, unintentionally.[7] The first charge is simply involuntary manslaughter. For this charge to be proved, there must be underlying negligence. The second charge is involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. This charge requires proof that there was more than simple negligence involved in a death. Both are being charged in the alternative, meaning the jury can only convict them on one of the charges, not both. Either charge is punishable by a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.[8]

In a statement of probable cause, a special investigator for the district attorney’s office accused Mr. Baldwin of not receiving sufficient firearms training firearms, of failing to deal with safety complaints on set, of putting his finger on the trigger of a real firearm, and of pointing the weapon at the cinematographer and director. In a statement of probable cause against Gutierrez-Reed, prosecutors faulted her for not checking the rounds she was loading into the firearms, for allowing live rounds on scene and for allowing ammunition to not be secured. They also accused her of failing to stay with the firearm, and that she did not have enough experience or training to be an armorer on a film the size of “Rust.”[9]

In February, prosecutors dropped a firearms enhancement on one of the charges after Baldwin’s attorneys complained that it was unconstitutional. Baldwin’s attorneys argued, “The prosecutors committed a basic legal error by charging Mr. Baldwin under a version of the firearm-enhancement statute that did not exist on the date of the accident.” The firearm enhancement law was changed in May 2022, meaning the charge would not be applicable to either case since Hutchins’s death occurred in October 2021.[10]

During a hearing on March 9, 2023, Baldwin’s lawyers asserted that the state destroyed the firearm that was used in this case. New Mexico’s First Judicial District Attorney’s office later responded, claiming the firearm has not been destroyed, but the defense’s statement may be in response to the FBI’s firearms testing report, where it stated that damage was done to internal components of the gun during the FBI’s functionality testing.  The state claims that the gun still exists and can be used as evidence.[11]

In another turn of events, Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor, has decided to step down from the case. Baldwin’s attorneys filed a motion in February to have Reed disqualified as a special prosecutor due to her serving as a member of the House of Representatives and as a prosecutor, which is unconstitutional under New Mexico’s separation of powers clause.[12]

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and waived his first court appearance. Baldwin’s conditions for release include prohibitions from handling firearms, drinking alcohol, and discussing the shooting and testimony with any potential witnesses. Baldwin is allowed contact with potential witnesses in order to complete filming, which is set to resume this spring in Montana. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed did not enter a plea at her first court appearance.

Baldwin has already reached a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit with Hutchins’s husband in October 2022. “We have reached a settlement, subject to court approval, for our wrongful death case against the producers of Rust, including Alec Baldwin and Rust Movie Productions, LLC. As part of that settlement, our case will be dismissed. The filming of Rust, which I will now executive produce, will resume with all the original principal players on board in January 2023. I have no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame (to the producers or Mr. Baldwin). All of us believe Halyna’s death was a terrible accident. I am grateful that the producers and the entertainment community have come together to pay tribute to Halyna’s final work,” Hutchins’s husband said in a statement. [13]

There is currently no definitive set of regulations of firearm use in the film industry. Many states leave it to the film industry to create and police its own rules. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee offers the film industry a list of suggested rules that were last revised in 2003. Some of the suggested rules include refraining from pointing the firearm at yourself or anyone else and to treat all firearms as though they are loaded. These are just guidelines and are not binding laws or regulations. Revisions on these guidelines are currently in the early stages, with many films taking extra precautions after the horrific “Rust” shooting.[14]

[1] Collman, Ashley, “Alec Baldwin faces up to 18 months’ prison time if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Here’s a breakdown of charges against the actor,” 17 Mar 23,

[2] “What to Know About the Fatal Shooting on Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ Movie Set,” 23 Feb. 23,

[3] Alfonseca, Kiara, “‘Rust’ camera assistant who quit before shooting says safety concerns were ignored’’

[4] The Associated Press, “New Mexico fines ‘Rust movie producers $136,793 for firearms safety failures”, 20 Apr. 2022

[5] Vercammen, Paul, “’Rust’ movie shooting report finds ‘willful violations’ on set”, 20, Apr. 2022

[6] Vercammen, Paul, “’Rust’ movie shooting report finds ‘willful violations’ on set”, 20, Apr. 2022

[7] N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-2-3

[8] The Wall Street Journal, “Alec Baldwin’s involuntary Manslaughter Charges: A Legal Analysis,” 31 Jan. 23

[9] “What to Know About the Fatal Shooting on Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ Movie Set,” 23 Feb. 23,

[10] Picciotto, Rebecca, “’Rust” prosecutor said gun enhancement for charge was wrong Alec Baldwin’s lawyers say” 22 Feb. 23,

[11] Picciotto, Rebecca, “Prosecutors deny claim by Alec Baldwin’s lawyers that authorities destroyed gun in ‘Rust’ movie set shooting,” 9 Mar 2023,

[12] Picciotto, Rebecca, “’Rust’ prosecutor steps down after challenge from Alec Baldwin’s defense,” 14 Mar. 23,

[13] Melas, Chloe, “Alec Baldwin reaches settlement with Halyna Hutchins’ family,” 5 Oct. 22,

[14] “Alec Baldwin film tragedy: What are the rules for guns on movie sets?” 25 Oct. 21,

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