A year and three months after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot dead in a tragic accident on the set of Rust, charges against Alec Baldwin and two other cast and crew members have been officially been announced. First assistant director David Halls has agreed to plead guilty to the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. The film’s armourer Hannah Gutierrez Reed has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting. And Baldwin himself has also been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter — each carrying a maximum of 18 months in prison.
The charges were brought by the state of New Mexico, where Rust was being filmed in Bonanza City, an old mining town on the outskirts of Santa Fe. And in announcing them at 11am ET on Thursday, New Mexico first judicial district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies used unusually strong language. “After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the Rust film crew,” she said. “On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
The reaction of the district attorney is hardly the first one to raise eyebrows. Donald Trump Jr has taken a special interest for a while now. (Surely it can’t have anything to do with the fact that Baldwin famously portrayed his father on Saturday Night Live during his ill-fated presidency.) As charges were announced, Junior tweeted: “Maybe Alec Baldwin will be lucky enough to share a cell with Michael Avenatti.” And in the immediate aftermath of Halyna Hutchins’ death, back in 2021, Don Jr could be found selling T-shirts on his website attempting to satirize the accident (I say “attempting to” because it wasn’t funny, and it also wasn’t technically satire.) Junior — who also had a line of T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Fauci kills puppies” at the time and currently has a line of hoodies for committed conspiracy theorists which state “All my conspiracy theories keep coming true” — released the shirts just a week after Hutchins’ death. They retailed for $27.99 and stated: “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people”.
The slogan is obviously meant as a reference to the pro-gun slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. But the T-shirt also underlines how particularly stupid that slogan is. In the case of Hutchins, it’s clear that it was the presence of a loaded gun that led to a woman losing her life. The involuntary manslaughter charges accept that neither Baldwin nor any of his co-workers on set had malicious intent. They didn’t imagine that their actions would lead to the death of Hutchins, nor did they want her to die. But the fact that a loaded gun was present and able to accidentally discharge meant that she was fatally wounded.
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is meant to imply that it’s the killing urge inside of us all that is to blame for the disproportionate number of firearms deaths in America every year. Instead of it being true that gun availability clearly leads to gun deaths — as is proven time and time again with data — it shifts the responsibility onto all of us to look inside ourselves and repent and, ideally, keep our eyes off the graphs that prove that none of that actually matters when it comes to driving down firearms deaths and injuries. The idea behind this insidious slogan is that if guns were taken away, then people with evil intent would just find another way to kill or injure the people they killed or injured with their guns. But all available global statistics show this isn’t true. Guns make murder, manslaughter and suicide easy. Their presence also means that accidental death, or involuntary manslaughter, is more likely too.
None of us expect the best from a man whose line in attire includes T-shirts with automatic weapons on them saying “Come and take ‘em” or hoodies proclaiming that we should “Make America great again, again”. Few of us ever thought Don Jr was going to become a gun control advocate. But it’s worth remembering how low he stooped when somebody he didn’t like became embroiled in a tragic accident.
Like him or loathe him, Alec Baldwin clearly did not turn up to work in October 2021 with the intent to kill somebody. His reaction to Hutchins’ shooting was deeply remorseful. Whether or not he and his fellow crewmembers are found to have been negligent in their working practices, churning a profit by claiming that “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people” is at best distasteful and at worst deeply callous.
As the legal ramifications of Hutchins’ death continue to make themselves known, it’s worth remembering that the reaction of far-right GOP members to a human’s death was gleeful mockery. Such a casual disregard for human life is common among extreme pro-gun Republicans, who oppose basic legislation such as red flag laws and automatic weapons bans even as children are gunned down in their schools year after year. When the latest school shooting hits the news, however, most of them at least have the decency to offer redundant “thoughts and prayers”. That Halyna Hutchins wasn’t even worth that to Donald Jr says everything we need to know about the hardhearted apathy that lies underneath.