Gun Safety Reminder: There Are Only Two Kinds of Shootings

Photo by George Hodan. Public Domain.
Photo by George Hodan. Public Domain.

On April 15, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was sentenced to 18 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter over her role in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust, a movie production for which Gutierrez-Reed served as an armorer. Actor Alec Baldwin faces trial in July, on the same charge and regarding the same incident.

Most news stories describe the incident, in which Baldwin fired a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks but which turned out to have live rounds in the chamber, as an “accidental shooting.”

On any given day, my news feeds show me other stories of so-called “accidental shootings,” usually involving children and guns which are mishandled by, or left unattended by, their adult owners.

The phrase “accidental shooting” is usually a contradiction in terms. There are, in the normal course of events, only two kinds of shootings: Intentional and negligent.

An intentional shooting occurs when a competent individual intentionally loads, points, and fires a properly functioning firearm.

A negligent shooting occurs when a competent individual fails to do his or her job. That job includes:

  1. Knowing what’s in a firearm’s chamber or magazine before pointing it.
  2. Taking care not to point a firearm at anything the shooter doesn’t want to hit.
  3. Taking care to not pull the trigger if there’s anything or anyone other than the intended target in front of the firearm.
  4. Taking care to secure the firearm such that people who shouldn’t have access to it DON’T have access to it.

Truly “accidental” shootings are incredibly rare. Under anything like normal conditions, guns can’t load themselves and fire themselves without human intervention.

In the Rust incident, it was Gutierrez-Reed’s responsibility to ensure that the weapon was not loaded with live rounds before it got onto the set and into Baldwin’s hands.

It was also Baldwin’s responsibility to ensure that the weapon was not loaded with live rounds before he pointed it at people, and especially before he pulled the trigger.

Baldwin claims he DIDN’T pull the trigger, implying a defective weapon that Gutierrez-Reed, as armorer, shouldn’t have missed. According to ABC News, an FBI analysis concluded that it couldn’t have fired without the trigger being pulled.

The Rust shooting was no “accident.” Like most so-called “accidental shootings,” it was the end result of negligence by one or more people.

Gun ownership is your right. Gun safety is your responsibility. Take both seriously.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.