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What's At Stake In The 'Rust' Set Shooting Investigation

A bright yellow sign reads "RUST" and has a white arrow pointed to the right with a grassy field in the background.
A sign directs people to the road that leads to the Bonanza Creek Ranch where the movie "Rust" was being filmed on October 22, 2021 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
(Sam Wasson
/
Getty Images)
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It’s been nearly a year since actor and producer Alec Bladwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza on the set of Rust.

Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

As we approach that grim Oct. 21 anniversary, investigators have not yet filed any charges despite earlier findings from workplace safety investigators that the New Mexico production exhibited “plain indifference” toward gun and ammunition handling.

There’s more at stake than criminal liability. The Rust shooting launched a rank-and-file industry push for safer sets, and some lawmakers considered a ban on using real guns on productions. And if the industry is going to bring about real change to prevent another such death, it needs to know who was responsible, and what went wrong, regardless of whether anyone goes to jail.

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Earlier this week, New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator concluded that Hutchins’ death was an accident. The report said there was no “obvious intent to cause harm or death” and “no compelling demonstration” that the gun was intentionally loaded with live bullets.

But that conclusion is not necessarily exonerating, as prosecutors can apply another standard: negligence. The higher the negligence, the higher the chance of a criminal action potentially brought by state prosecutors, particularly in regards to how a live round ended up in Baldwin’s gun.

Also under recent scrutiny is whether Baldwin pulled the trigger while he aimed it at Hutchins. Industry safety standards mandate that even if a gun is believed to be unloaded, it should never be pointed directly at another actor or crew member.

Baldwin says he didn’t pull the trigger, and that the gun essentially discharged on its own. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which the state brought in to help with ballistics, recently cast doubt on the actor’s explanation.

The FBI says the gun “could not be made to fire without a pull of the trigger.” Last week’s FBI analysis was sent to New Mexico authorities, who told me they had no comment about the status of their Rust work.

A framed photo of Halyna Hutchins, with blond hair, a white dress, and a scarf, depicted with angel wings and a halo. The frame is surrounded by memorial candles burning.
Candles are placed in front of a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Oct. 23, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
(Sam Wasson
/
Getty Images)

In a podcast interview this week with former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, Baldwin said he might have shot Hutchins by “fanning” the revolver.

"In old Western movies you'd see someone fan the hammer of the gun," Baldwin said. "The hammer didn't lock. You pulled it back to an extent where it would fire the bullet without you pulling the trigger."

He didn’t mention that shooting a gun in that manner typically requires a person to hold the trigger down with one hand while the other hand rapidly slaps the hammer back.

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A number of competing civil lawsuits have said Baldwin and several Rust crew members are responsible for Hutchins death, and must pay for their actions.

In February, the son and widower of Hutchins brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the actor, who also served as a producer of Rust. They alleged that Baldwin’s shooting of Hutchins was the tragic consequence of negligence and violating safety rules.

Matthew and Andros Hutchins said Baldwin is largely responsible — perhaps criminally so — for killing Hutchins because he didn't follow “basic rules for safe gun handling.”

New Mexico safety investigators in April fined the production the maximum amount possible: $136,793.

Now, some 10 months later, the industry still needs to address Hutchins' killing more thoroughly, and the more information the industry receives, the safer it could be for everyone on a set.

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John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?