Actor Alec Baldwin has been under a microscope lately. Being involved in a fatal shooting will do that to anyone, but particularly when you’re the big name on the film set where the shooting took place and you were the one holding the gun.
For a lot of people, that’s ample reason to believe Baldwin should be charged with manslaughter.
I’m not so sure of that, not just yet anyway, but I think it’s a strong possibility that he’s somewhat responsible for what happened. Maybe not entirely, to be sure, but had he done things differently, a life wouldn’t have ended that day.
However, Baldwin wants everyone to know that he didn’t pull the trigger.
Now, the same article includes speculation that this is semantics, that because a single-action revolver has such a light trigger pull, he didn’t “pull” it so much as apply just a tiny bit of pressure he might not have considered enough for a “pull.”
That is certainly possible. This would be a semantics argument, though, and one unlikely to fly in any court of law.
After all, as noted by TMZ, Baldwin is facing lawsuits over what transpired.
For the gun-knowledgable folks among us, the argument is simply ludicrous. We know that guns don’t fire by themselves, someone has to pull the trigger.
Or do they?
Stephen Gutowski, over at The Reload, points out that the weapon used can potentially fire without pulling the trigger.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza identified the gun used in the shooting as a modern Pietta replica of a single-action army revolver. Those guns can be bought either with a transfer bar that makes it impossible for the firing pin to strike the primer unless the trigger is pulled or without one. Often, enthusiasts and collectors prefer the models without modern safety devices because it’s more authentic and perfectly safe when handled properly.
A single-action revolver usually requires the hammer to be manually cocked, and the trigger be pulled for a shot to be fired. That’s why it’s referred to as a single-action: because the trigger performs just one action. It drops the hammer. In a double-action revolver, on the other hand, the trigger can both cock and release the hammer.
However, a single-action revolver with the old-style firing mechanism can fire without either the hammer being cocked or the trigger being pulled. When the hammer is down on that kind of revolver, the firing pin protrudes and, if a live round is loaded in the chamber underneath, a sharp enough jolt can cause the pin to strike the round’s primer with enough force to set it off.
This is why the “Cowboy load” was developed. When carrying an old-style single-action revolver, it’s best practice to leave the chamber underneath the hammer unloaded. That way, a jolt can’t unintentionally set off a round.
Now, let me be clear, Gutowski is not saying that’s what happened. He’s not. He goes on to point out that there’s a reason the gun safety rules have so much redundancy built-in and that while Baldwin may not have pulled the trigger, he still pointed the gun at another human being and tragedy ensued.
He’s also not saying Baldwin didn’t pull the trigger, only that there is a possibility that this particular style of gun may have had a feature that allowed it to discharge without the trigger being pulled.
That’s an important thing to understand here. I don’t think it’s likely that Baldwin pointed the gun at someone and then the undocked hammer got hit in some way that caused the weapon to fire. However, we shouldn’t pretend that this particular gun couldn’t fire without a trigger pull simply because we don’t like Alec Baldwin’s politics.
Again, that doesn’t mean Baldwin isn’t lying to cover his butt. It doesn’t mean he’s not trying to play the semantics game to get himself off the hook. It also doesn’t mean that actors need to be educated better about the handling of firearms.
It simply means that in order to be accurate, we have to be clear about the possibilities that exist.