“Then I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off.”
– actor Alec Baldwin, in an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Dec. 2
In his first interview since the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the film set of a western called “Rust,” Baldwin said that he had started to cock the gun and released the hammer but that “I never pulled the trigger.”
His story has been backed by an attorney for “Rust” assistant director Dave Halls. “Dave has told me since the very first day I met him that Alec did not pull that trigger,” Lisa Torraco told ABC News. “His finger was never in the trigger guard.”
But several gun experts increasingly say this scenario does not make sense unless there was a serious mechanical defect with the gun – which should have been obvious before it was used.
If reports are correct that Baldwin was handling a reproduction of a single-action revolver, said to be a F. LL1 Pietta Long Colt 45 Revolver, this design would allow for four spots to hold the hammer in place as it is pulled back.
Nothing is supposed to happen if only the hammer is pulled back and resting on a sear – which holds the hammer in place – even if the gun is dropped.
But when enough pressure is applied to the trigger, a bar releases the sear, which releases the hammer and then the gun fires.
As a reader service, here’s a roundup of what prominent gun experts have said about Baldwin’s statement.
Steve Wolf, a theatrical firearms safety expert, said in an interview with CNN that Baldwin’s account is “not plausible.”
During the interview, Wolf holds a revolver and demonstrates what happens. “On a single-action revolver, when you pull the hammer back, which is an intentional act – click, click, click, click – now the hammer is set,” he said. “When you pull the hammer back and let go . . . the hammer doesn’t go anywhere. When you press the trigger . . . it takes very little to press the trigger there.”
In an interview with the Wrap, which covers the entertainment industry, Wolf said the likelihood of Baldwin’s statement being true was “zero” on a scale of 1 to 10. “You know, guns don’t go off by themselves, right? It’s an inanimate object. It has no batteries. It has no time,” he said. “It has no web connection. It’s not a smart piece of equipment. It’s a very reliable device that shoots when you press the trigger, and it doesn’t shoot when you don’t press the trigger.”
Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works, said in an interview with Emily Miller, author of a book on gun-control laws and policies: “The very first thing people say when a gun discharges is that they didn’t touch the trigger. . . . It’s a common mistake for new people. It’s unconscious. They truly believe they didn’t have their finger on the trigger.”
Cargill, who is a handgun and private security instructor, told Miller one possible explanation is Baldwin had his finger on the trigger and used his thumb to pull the hammer back.
In an interview with The Fact Checker, Cargill offered another possibility – that the hammer was pulled back and did not properly engage with the sear so it could be released without pulling the trigger. “Boom, it will go off,” he said.
Stephen Gutowski, founder and editor of the Reload, which reports on guns, wrote in an opinion article in USA Today: “It’s a surprising claim because it’s also an improbable one. Despite how often people will say a gun just ‘went off’ on its own, it’s an extremely uncommon phenomenon. Modern guns have internal safeties that make it impossible for the gun to fire without the trigger being pulled.”
Gutowski said the hammer will catch on a sear after being pulled back, as Wolf demonstrated, unless the trigger is already depressed. “If you hold the trigger down while you manipulate the hammer on a single-action revolver, you can pull the hammer back and release it without it catching on any of the sears,” he added.
In an article on the Reload website, Gutowski wrote: “What seems far more likely is Baldwin kept the trigger depressed as he pulled the hammer back. Then, when he released the hammer, the trigger kept the sears out of the way, and the gun fired. Perhaps Baldwin is making some kind of semantic argument about pulling a trigger rather than keeping it depressed while cocking the hammer, but that’s a distinction without a difference.”
Sheriff Adan Mendoza of Santa Fe County told Fox News that the department is awaiting results from the FBI on how the gun could have been fired. But he was also skeptical about Baldwin’s statement. “Guns don’t just go off,” Mendoza said. “So whatever needs to happen to manipulate the firearm, he did that, and it was in his hands.”