I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded

Oh Miss Effie was her name                                                                                    Through the West she won her fame                                                                             Being handy with the gun                                                                                                But she drove the men insane 

Cause she’d whip out her pistol                                                                                          And shoot most any guy                                                                                                     And sing out this alibi                                                                                                                                

I didn’t know the gun was loaded                                                                                    And I’m so sorry my friend                                                                                                    I didn’t know the gun was loaded                                                                                                And I’ll never, never do it again . . . .

All I know about the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins at the hands of Alec Baldwin on a movie location in New Mexico comes from news reports on the radio.  Thus far it seems gun handling protocol common to movie or television sets was not followed.  I’ve been on many a television or movie set in studios and on location and can say from my experience that when guns are present the prop master, armorer, directors, and actors are on high alert.  

There are safety meetings and the handling of guns is discussed.  Hollywood follows the same procedures those of us who grew up in homes with guns learned as little kids: Assume a gun is loaded; if you pick up a gun or are handed a gun be certain the safety is on; inspect the gun and determine if there are rounds in the gun’s magazine or cylinder or an already chambered round; don’t point the gun at anyone.  

On movies or television sets it is normally made certain a gun is loaded with blanks only and that a gun is never left unattended.  Typically, a prop master or an armorer will check a gun for blanks only if loaded and then show the gun to an assistant director who will then do his own inspection.  Only at that point will the gun be handed to an actor, who will ask the armorer or prop master to show him the gun is loaded with blanks only.  Only when a gun has been triple inspected will it then be used in a scene. 

For Alec Baldwin’s movie Rust, a Western set in the 1880s, this should have been easy.  The gun must have been a revolver, which has a cylinder that swings out.  It’s then simple to check the cylinder to see if the chambers are loaded and, if so, with what and to look through the barrel to see if it’s free of debris and clean.  This is a quick and easy inspection, even for an actor such as Baldwin.  It’s unfathomable to me why he didn’t do such a final inspection or have the assistant director who reportedly handed him the gun and told him it was “cold” show him that indeed it was unloaded or loaded only with blanks.    

Once Baldwin had that gun in his hands, it then became his responsibility.  I’m sure he will soon be declaring in an affidavit, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”      

Roger McGrath

Roger McGrath

7 Responses

  1. Gregory Fogg says:

    19th century single action revolvers such as the Colt 1873 and the Remington 1875 actually don’t have swing-out cylinders. They are still easy to check by opening the loading gate and manually rotating the cylinder as you would do when loading the weapon.

  2. Roger McGrath says:

    Thanks, Gregory. You’re probably right that the gun in question had a loading gate rather than a swing-out cylinder. However, the movie, I was told, is set in the late 1880s, which is about the time Colt introduced its version of the swing-out cylinder. I don’t know how precisely accurate they were trying to be with the guns and I don’t know if the gun use was a Colt. You may correct me on this but I think the swing-out cylinder was actually patented back near the end of the Civil War but was not widely in use until the end of the 1880s. If you are a student of Colt, Smith & Wesson, Remington, and the many other manufacturers of revolvers I’d like to know the various dates and models of revolvers that first appeared with the swing-out cylinder. BTW, in gunfights that I studied in mining camps of the West the famous single-action Colt Peacemaker of 1873 was surprisingly not especially popular and a number of shootists continued to use the Colt Navy or other guns instead of the Peacemaker until 1877 when the double-action Lightning and Thunderer were introduced. Those double-action revolvers became highly popular and were commonly used in gunfights, although that has generally escaped the attention of movie-makers.

  3. Gregory Fogg says:

    Dr. McGrath, I think the double action Colt debuted in 1877 and the S&W 3 years later. I know you’re the expert in this field, but I seem to recall that Colt’s double action Lightning was Billy the Kid’s weapon of choice.

  4. Roger McGrath says:

    Yes, indeed, as I mentioned the double-action Colt hit the market in 1877 in two calibers, .38 and .41., nicknamed the Lightning and the Thunderer, by Ben Kittredge, the largest of the Colt distributors, although newspapers at the time tended to call both guns a Colt “self-cocker” or a Colt “Lightning” and rarely referred to the larger caliber model as the “Thunderer.” Billy the Kid packed the .41 caliber version as did Pat Garrett and Cole Younger. Many other of shootists of similar fame also used the new Colt double action in one or the other calibers, including Doc Holiday, and perhaps the frontier’s deadliest shootist and one of Tom Fleming’s favorites, John Wesley Hardin.

  5. Gregory Fogg says:

    Didn’t Wild Bill Hickok stick with the cap and ball percussion revolvers ’til the bitter end?

  6. Roger McGrath says:

    You not only know your guns, Gregory, but also your gunfighters. Yes, Hickok may have stuck with cap and ball until shot by Jack McCall. However, there is an 1876 mention of Hickok target practicing with a Colt Navy converted to take rim-fire or center-fire metallic cartridges. Whether he switched in his final days from cap and ball to cartridge or not, we do know he was extraordinarily fond of the Colt Navy and especially the matching and engraved, ivory-handled Colt Navy revolvers, possibly presented to him by the Union Pacific for cleaning up Hays City. Early in his life he used a Colt Dragoon before switching to the lighter, smaller caliber and perfectly balanced Colt Navy. He also used other Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Remington revolvers of various calibers and often had one or two Williamson derringers tucked in a pocket.

  7. Kellen Buckles says:

    In case anyone hasn’t seen this reference to Alex Baldwin’s scornful but ironic 2017 tweet about the police killing of a man, here it is:

    In the aftermath of Hutchins’ death, a tweet Baldwin wrote in 2017 in response to a police officer fatally shooting a suspect outside of a 7-Eleven convenience store in Huntington Beach, California, has resurfaced. “I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone…” Baldwin’s four-year-old tweet reads.

    I think the FB meme says it all: “A young mother would be alive today if this rabid anti-gun leftist had taken an NRA safety class. Just one!”