The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: What We Should Learn From Alec Baldwin’s Deadly Shooting

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Unfortunately, the end of this week was dominated by some very bad news. An accident on the set of Alec Baldwin’s latest movie where the actor shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. The details of how exactly this happened are still murky, but it reinforces one key point: guns aren’t toys and require a serious commitment to safety at all times.

I spoke about this point on Entertainment Tonight and in a piece for The Atlantic. But, I wanted to give you guys a bit more insight into exactly what I mean. I’m not saying Baldwin or others on set didn’t understand the basic idea that guns, even props, aren’t toys. Rather, the complacency that comes with assuming a gun, for whatever reason, is less dangerous than it really is can lead to terrible tragedies.

We also have Jake Fogleman taking a look at the implications of a big ruling on preemption lawsuits out of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week.

Plus, Cam Edwards of Bearing Arms came on the podcast to give some key insight into where the fast-approaching Virginia elections are at today and how guns have become a significant issue in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Hollywood neon signage at nighttime
Photo by Brady Bellini on Unsplash

Analysis: Alec Baldwin Tragedy is a Reminder Guns, Even Blank-Firing Props, Are Not Toys
By Stephen Gutowski

The horrible shooting incident on the set of Alec Baldwin’s latest movie is at the top of the news today. A negligent discharge by the actor lead to the death of one crew member and serious injury of another. I wrote about what we know of the situation so far, and what lesson we can take away from it in a piece for The Atlantic.

I want to walk you through some of what I wrote and give you a few more insights into the main takeaway.

Early reports offered conflicting information. A spokesperson for Baldwin told the Associated Press that the gun in question was firing blanks. In an email to members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the secretary-treasurer of IATSE Local 44 wrote that “a live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor,” IndieWire reported.

It’s impossible at this point to draw any hard conclusions about precisely what went wrong. But whatever the specifics, there’s a simple lesson to be learned: Guns aren’t toys. Even props must be handled with respect for the harm they’re capable of inflicting. Training is required to operate any firearm safely, whether on set, at the range, or at home. And following gun-safety rules is always imperative.

A variety of different guns are used in film productions. Those include rubber guns that don’t function at all, airsoft guns with simulated blowback, blank-firing props, and even real functioning firearms. Blank-firing prop guns are designed to only work with blanks. Many have blocked barrels to prevent a projectile from being fired through them. Real guns used as props are sometimes modified in the same way. But live ammunition improperly loaded into either kind of gun could potentially overcome those precautions.

Productions often employ a trained professional to oversee the handling of any firearms, real or fake, precisely because they can be dangerous even when simple precautions such as keeping live ammunition away from set are followed. Blanks themselves can be dangerous if used improperly.

Blanks are usually cartridges that are manufactured without the inclusion of the bullet. They still feature a primer and powder charge, though, at about half the strength of a live round.

That means they still expel a lot of hot gas at a high rate of speed and can still be dangerous. This is especially true if something is lodged in the prop gun’s barrel that the charge can propel forward.

Fatal accidents have occurred with prop guns in the past. Most notably, Bruce Lee’s son was killed by somebody’s gun-handling mistake.

In 1993, Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was filming a movie titled The Crow. During a scene in which the character he played was supposed to be shot, something went wrong, and Lee was killed. His autopsy revealed that he’d been hit with a .44-caliber bullet.

The details in Lee’s case are, to some degree, still disputed. We might never get a perfect explanation for what happened to him, and the same might be true for this latest tragedy.

This kind of negligence is exceedingly rare. Prop guns, blanks, and even real guns used as props are involved in entertainment productions every day without a problem. That is only the case when everyone handling the firearms, including the actors, both properly understand the risks involved in using them and follow the rules designed to mitigate those risks.

You should read the full piece over at The Atlantic, but all of this reinforces how important it is to understand what your firearms are capable of doing. And, why safety rules are so important.

I’m not saying that Alec Baldwin or the other people on this particular set don’t understand on some level that guns, even props, aren’t toys. I’m sure they had that basic understanding. But, it’s easy to make mistakes or get lazy with following the proper protocols when you feel you’re dealing with a lower level of danger than you really are.

This is exactly why we teach students in gun safety courses not to rely on a gun’s mechanical safety. They aren’t likely to fail but they can. And, if you let your guard down because a mechanical safety provides you with a false sense of security, you could easily end up hurting yourself or somebody else.

Making sure students don’t bring live ammunition to the classroom portion of the course is a similar precaution implemented for similar reasons.

That’s why we tell students to rely on the gun safety rules above all else. Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. Always treat every gun as though it is loaded.

These rules are redundant on purpose. If you follow them, you will be able to avoid hurting anyone even when you experience a negligent discharge.

Guns, real and fake, are used safely on a daily basis across the country. These rules are not hard to learn or abide by. They are vital whether you’re on the shooting range or movie set.

Stephen Gutowski on Entertainment Tonight
Stephen Gutowski on Entertainment Tonight / Screenshot

Gutowski on Entertainment Tonight: Alec Baldwin Shooting a ‘Serious Breach in Safety Protocols’
By The Reload Staff

Reload founder Stephen Gutowski appeared on Entertainment Tonight to discuss the tragic death of a production member after actor Alec Baldwin was involved in an on-set shooting this week.

He emphasized the catastrophic event is a rarity in the industry and said it represented a serious concern for how the production was handled in the lead up to the accident.

“I’m very concerned, personally, about how something like this was able to occur,” Gutowski said.

He said blank rounds and live rounds are distinct from one another and anyone handling them ought to be able to easily tell them apart. That means the accident could only have been the result of a serious breach of safety rules.

“Physically, the difference between a blank and a live round is very noticeable,” Gutowski said. “Clearly there must have been a serious breach in safety protocols for this to have happened.”

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: What the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Ruling Could Mean for Preemption Challenges [Member Exclusive]
By Jake Fogleman

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday may have allowed a challenge to Harrisburg’s local gun ordinances to continue, but its impact is likely to be more far-reaching than just that.

Standing in cases like this has traditionally been understood to require a person to violate the law in question in order to contest its lawfulness in court. But as it was put so eloquently by one of the Justices in the case: “The choice between engaging in arguably constitutional activity and facing potential prosecution, or forfeiting one’s rights and abstaining from potentially protected conduct altogether, presents precisely the kind of choice that confers standing.”

By ruling that the plaintiffs in the case Firearm Owners Against Crime, et al. v. City of Harrisburg, et al had standing to sue the city, even though they hadn’t been charged under any of the local gun laws in question, the Court established an important precedent for pre-enforcement challenges by gun owners across the state. And it’s one that could have a huge impact across the state and, perhaps, even the rest of the country.

To be clear, preemption battles are nothing new in Pennsylvania courts. Cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regularly test the limits of Pennsylvania’s firearm preemption statute by passing new local gun restrictions and routinely have them challenged in court.

In 1996, the preemption statute was used by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to strike down assault weapons bans in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the case Ortiz v. Commonwealth. Similarly, Philadelphia saw seven gun-control ordinances—including another assault weapon ban—struck down under state preemption in the 2008 case Clarke v. House of Representatives.

Yet despite this history of losing in court, Pennsylvania cities continue to pass the same laws with minor tweaks to try to skirt the preemption statute. With the state high court’s recent ruling, any gun owner impacted by these cities’ attempts to pass gun laws will likely be able to secure standing to sue, making it all the more likely that illegal local restrictions that go beyond what state law allows will fail.

Gun-control proponents have often backed these plays as intentional challenges to preemption, but they’ve had little success and now appear to be moving towards legislative efforts instead. Indeed, there has already been some movement in that direction in recent history. Philadelphia filed suit against the state last year over the preemption law, and a state representative from Pittsburgh introduced two bills earlier this year that would remove the state’s preemption statute altogether.

With a Republican-controlled state legislature, such a repeal is almost certainly going to fail. But future iterations of the legislature, with a change in the majority, could see it succeeding. Repeals of firearm preemption statutes are no longer an unprecedented move.

This past June, the legislature in Colorado repealed its preemption law, becoming the first state to ever repeal a firearm preemption statute. Local and municipal governments now have the ability to pass any firearm restriction, including a complete ban on licensed carry, provided it is not less restrictive than state law.

This was done by a Democrat-controlled state legislature frustrated by a court ruling that struck down the city of Boulder’s assault weapons ban under state preemption. Subsequently, candidates for Boulder city council have already been suggesting reinstating the assault weapons ban, creating a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases, and even completely banning concealed carry.

Virginia moved to weaken its preemption law in 2020 after Democrats took complete control of the state government. Localities can now place further restrictions on where those with gun-carry permits can bring their guns.

However, barring a shift in political power of the sort that happened in Colorado and Virginia or an aberrant ruling in the Philadelphia case against the state, Pennsylvania gun owners have better odds of fighting off local gun control laws going forward. And the state’s approach could spread to others down the line.

Podcast: Cam Edwards on Virginia’s Election Tightening as Guns Become Flashpoint [Member Early Access]
By Stephen Gutowski

Cam Edwards of Bearing Arms joins the show this week as the Virginia elections enter their homestretch. He argues Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has actually surged into the lead over Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

We talk about how Dominion Energy’s underhanded attempt to discourage gun owners has backfired and helped Youngkin close the gap. Cam and I both live in Virginia, though very different parts of the state, and have been targeted by the disingenuous ads that attack the Republican from the right on guns despite being created by a liberal consulting group.

But, the shadowy effort to keep gun owners from voting also shows Youngkin may have miscalculated by keeping the gun-rights groups at arm’s length. Should he have pursued the gun vote harder than he did? With the election so close, even though the issue hasn’t been a top priority until late, the turnout of gun voters could well turn the election.

Every little bit matters when you’re in a race that comes down to just a few points. Dominion’s meddling backfired on them, but will Youngkin’s tightrope act backfire on him too? Or, will he motivate enough downstate gun owners to vote while bringing out Northern Virginia voters who an NRA endorsement may have turned off?

Plus, we talk about how the 2019 McAuliffe comments I unearthed earlier this month could hurt his fellow Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring as he runs for re-election. And, contributing writer Jake Fogleman and I detail the big ruling from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court that could have a big impact on illegal local gun restrictions.

You can listen to the show on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.

You can also watch the show on our YouTube channel.

If you want to be on an episode of the podcast, just let me know. I’m looking forward to having more Reload members on soon! Talking to you guys is always one of my favorite segments.

A sign welcomes drivers to Virginia
A sign welcomes drivers to Virginia / Stephen Gutowski

Dominion’s Debacle: Virginia’s Largest Power Company Wants Us to Believe it Was Duped in Gun Vote Suppression Operation [Member Exclusive]

Dominion Energy would like everyone to know that they had no idea what Virginia Accountability PAC was up to when it gave the shadow PAC $200,000.

On Monday, CEO Robert Blue told employees that the company didn’t know the PAC was planning to disingenuously attack Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. He said the company did not approve of the PAC, run by a liberal consulting group, running attack ads against Youngkin in Republican-leaning areas for not seeking endorsements from the NRA or Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“Based on our own disclosures, two news stories highlighted activities of the Accountability Virginia PAC that we would not approve or knowingly support,” he said in an email. “Although familiar with the Accountability Virginia PAC sponsors, we failed to vet sufficiently the scope of their intended activities.”

That’s right. We’re supposed to believe the company slipped, fell, and deposited $200,000 in a shadow PAC whose only purpose appears to be running disingenuous gun ads against Youngkin. If Blue is to be believed, the company was taken in by the liberal consulting firm Mele, Brengarth, & Associates, who created and run the group. The utility was a mere babe in the woods.

That all seems like quite a stretch to me, in case it wasn’t already obvious.

Virginia Accountability was founded in July 2021, after all. It’s not believable that Dominion managed to both find them and give them six figures despite knowing absolutely nothing about what they planned to do with the money. It is far more likely that the consulting firm came to them with a plan to influence the election precisely the underhanded way they did and convinced them to be its primary funder.

But why go about trying to influence the election in such a convoluted way that’s likely to create backlash if found out?

Well, they clearly want Youngkin’s opponent Democrat Terry McAuliffe to win the election. The problem is McAuliffe has sworn off donations from the energy giant. This scheme appears to be the brilliant workaround for that hurdle.

That’s sleazy, though not unprecedented. It’s also exactly the combination in politics that repulses many people. Nobody likes the idea of being manipulated, especially by a utility they can’t even cancel service from if they want to.

The alternative that Blue wants everyone to believe, that the consulting firm asked Dominion for hundreds of thousands of dollars and the company just gave it to them without asking what the heck it’d be used for, isn’t much more flattering. In that case, they look more stupid than underhanded. I’m not sure how comforting that is to Virginia gun owners or the company’s stockholders.

I doubt that Blue’s demand that Virginia Accountability return the company’s donations will comfort them either. Nor do I think many will believe that demand or the subsequent promise not to do it again is anything more than disingenuous.

That’s it for now.

I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


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