I Almost Shot My Cameraman

Alec Baldwin is at fault for killing a woman, not the armorer or the assistant director

I grabbed my range bag from the back of my car and walked toward my cameraman, Jason Smith,  who was sitting on a bench outside the shooting range.  I smiled and remarked we were on a fun assignment that day for TV news.

Moments later, I accidentally pointed a loaded gun at his stomach and almost shot him. So, I understand a little of what Alec Baldwin must feel for shooting his cinematographer.

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In August 2014, I was a TV reporter doing an investigation on a new gun law in DC. Jason was my photographer and editor. We were at the gun range to get b-roll because there was no stock video of guns at the TV station, other than crime scenes. 

Here’s one of the final reports in the investigation. Watch it and look for the b-roll we made that day.

After walking up to Jason, I pulled my gun out the soft envelope in my bag to show him what I would be using inside. A rare gun owner in the TV news industry, Jason recalled what happened next.

“You handed the SIG to me you had a pointed at my abdomen. I moved to your left and toward you to get clear of the muzzle,” he said. “At the same time, I took the gun from your grip.”

I pointed a gun at his stomach.

I knew better. But I let the excitement to get to meet a work buddy at a shooting range and shoot my gun on TV take over my logical thoughts. 

Jason took the gun and held it up at me and demanded to know why the hammer was cocked. I said that it’s easier to shoot that way.

That type of gun is called double action because the safety mechanism is pulling very hard to get the trigger to move on the first round. But once the hammer is cocked back, which I can do with my finger, each trigger pull is easy.

He was clearly annoyed with me. He said I can’t just walk around with it like this. He pushed up the lever on the side to raise the hammer in place. 

I was embarrassed. I was a public figure representing first-time gun owners and felt obligated to set a high bar for following safety rules. But I had pointed a gun at Jason and deliberately turned off the gun’s safety mechanism at home. This wasn’t even the worst part. 

Jason turned the gun around to look inside the grip where the magazine holding the ammunition would be. It was empty. I had removed it at home and put it in my range bag.

It is illegal to drive through DC with a loaded gun in the back of the car, and I did not yet have a carry permit. I thought I was following the rules. I felt my confidence returning. 

Jason reminded me what happened next.

“I then put my right hand on the handgrip and my left hand on the slide, racked the slide,” he said. “Since my left hand was over the ejection port the bullet was ejected into my hand. I showed it to you and you turned white as a ghost.”

The gun was loaded.

I felt my face flush and my heart race and my eyes fill with tears. Jason looked scared. He said something about his wife.

Jason recalled it this way: “When I showed you the round, your face went pale and you apologized profusely,” he said. “You handled it well. Glad we are still friends and can tell the story.”

For those unfamiliar with firearms, I had taken out the magazine which holds the ammunition to feed into the gun. But at some point, I had pulled back the slide which makes one round go into the chamber along the top. That round was ready to be fired with an easy pull of the trigger.

Just a moment before, the gun had the hammer back, a live round in the chamber and was aimed at my cameraman. If I had slightly pulled the trigger when handing the gun to him, I would have shot Jason in the stomach. Just like Baldwin did to Halyna Hutchins and killed her.  

I had written a book on getting a gun. I gave speeches on gun safety. I knew the rules, but that time, I didn’t follow them.

I pointed a gun at a person. And I did not assume the gun was loaded.

This is what Alec Baldwin apparently did on the set of his movie '“Rust.”

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Jason and I stayed outside a while because we both needed time to get our heart rates down and to be able to breathe regularly again.

He was kind and gracious to me about my errors. He said, “If you were going to make a mistake, it was good you made it with me.” We both knew that most TV photographers would not know to clear a chamber when handed a gun.

We finally went into the range and got the shots we needed.

No pun intended in this previous sentence. I just can’t find enough synonym for shooting a gun and shooting a TV show. If you can think of words to change in my story to fix the problem, leave the word and placement in the comments.

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I posted two videos below that Jason took of me shooting that day — after he finished the b-roll on the professional cameras.

The first one is when I got back into TV reporter confidence mode. You’d never know that I had almost shot the man making this video. It’s not hard to hide our mistakes.

This second video is more accurate about how rattled I was about what happened. You hear me make a comment about the heavy trigger pull. It was clearly on my mind because I was still freaked out about how close I came to shooting Jason. 

Almost shooting my cameraman was the scariest thing that has happened to me in the 10 years since I first shot a gun.

It gives me a little bit of insight into how Alec Baldwin felt when he actually shot his director, Joel Souza, and killed his cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins.  It’s the worst thing, and I’m grateful I don’t have to live with taking the life of a colleague.

I have never spoken about my near miss with Jason because I try to set a good example for gun safety. But now I think it’s more important for people to hear about common mistakes and learn from them.

The biggest lesson for me is when a situation is stressful— like a movie set — the actor or reporter has to be even more careful to abide by the safety rules exactly.

This is why military and police are trained, so the gun safety is muscle memory since they can’t think about rules when they are under high-stress situations.

Alec Baldwin on a movie set

On Wednesday, the Santa Fe Sheriff held a press conference and said that Baldwin shot a F.Lli Pietta .45-caliber Colt revolver with a live round at Hutchins. The lead projectile was found in Souza’s shoulder. (This means it went straight through Hutchins’s chest and into Souza where it stopped.)

We don’t know yet if Baldwin was told to aim the gun at the camera. The director and cinematographer was reported to be standing behind the camera and they were shot straight on, which makes it likely that was the scene.

Movie industry insiders tell me that they sometimes take shots (film, not gun) while the camera is looking down the barrel. I could never do that. I’ve tried before and I get too scared. If he was deliberately doing a cross draw toward the camera, the whole situation violated the safety rule of keeping a gun aimed at a safe direction.

We also don’t know yet if Baldwin intended to pull the trigger in that rehearsal. The Sheriff said the other guns on the prop cart couldn’t shoot, so it seems likely he chose that specific revolver in order to pull the trigger and get a bang from a blank.

But Baldwin is a very powerful actor and producer. If he didn’t want to pull the trigger directly at his crew, I can’t imagine he would be forced to do it. I have almost no power and said no to my book publisher, who owned rights to my work.

I won’t point a gun at a camera

In 2013, I was doing the photo shoot for the cover of my book at the NRA range after it had closed. It was a chaotic set. There was a makeup artist fixing me every few minutes. The NRA’s range officer kept taking the gun from me between changes to the set.

The photographer’s assistant kept moving the lights. I was wearing high heels but when I took them off for relief, I walked on broken glass from the lights. I cut the bottoms of my feet and bled on the floor. We got a first aid kit and bandaged me, but I had to keep on my heels since I didn't have other shoes. 

The publisher wanted a photo taken of me holding the gun directly at the camera. I said no. I was under intense stress. I couldn’t do something that was against everything I learned.

She then pushed the publicist to convince me that it was perfectly safe to point the gun at the camera since it was unloaded. She knew that because she heard the range officer assigned to handle this photo shoot had handed me the gun and said it was unloaded. 

That is the same circumstances as when the assistant director handed the gun to Baldwin and said it was “cold.”  

But the NRA officer was more diligent. He held the gun up so I could see inside where the magazine would be. Then he pulled back the slide and let me look down the chamber to see if there was an extra round. But I was still nervous about having a gun with so many distractions around me so I repeated the safety checks with the gun in my own hands. I knew it was unloaded.

I didn’t even like passing it back and forth with the range officer. Not that I didn’t trust him, but because it was one more thing for me to think about every time I took a break or changed my position. Anyone who is not in added stress when in possession of a gun is an idiot.

The shoot went late. I was hot. I was tired. My bleeding feet hurt. I was worried about getting the right shot before the end of the session. They had me pose in many different ways. I wasn’t sharp. I wasn’t able to think clearly. 

Finally, the female photographer tried to convince me herself. She said that she wasn’t at all scared I would accidentally shoot her. She told me to stop worrying on her behalf.

I said no. I can’t do it. There were at least 10 people in this photo shoot, and I was too nervous that I would get distracted by all the activity and shoot something or someone. 

In the end, the photographer took hundreds of photos of me with a gun in all possible angles and directions, but none of the muzzle at the camera. It’s better to be hated by the bosses than accidentally shoot someone on set.

The video below is from an hour-long, NRA-produced show that aired on the Outdoor channel. It was highly produced. Just this short video you can see I have to fake shooting a gun and really shoot.

Firearm safety rules in the real world

If you have my book, Emily Gets Her Gun, read pages 73-77 about how I was taught the gun safety rules by my editor. It’s interesting for me to read now how I was afraid to pull the trigger when he put “snap caps” in it to practice. I still feel like I’m going to kill someone when I pull a trigger anywhere but in a range.

Rereading how I learned gun safety is why I disagree with the people who say Hollywood actors should all take a class. I think it’s most useful to be told the safety rules by someone else (or read a poster) every time before you shoot.

The rules are not complicated. They are crafted so that if one fails, the other two secure the situation. 

For example in the incident with Jason, even though I didn’t assume the  gun was loaded, and it was not pointed in a safe direction, I didn’t have my finger on the trigger. That is what saved me from having to call his wife and tell her I shot her husband at work. 

The three rules are: always assume a gun is loaded, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. 

I ask someone at the range to repeat these to me every time because I don’t trust my memory. I don’t shoot often enough for it to be second nature. Repetition is key.

Stress of TV and movies and gun safety

Gun safety rules are easier to follow at a gun range because all the guns are loaded and if you just keep the gun pointed downrange, you’re good. The only rule you need to pay attention to is when to put your finger on the trigger. 

But keeping to gun safety rules in the real world -- like on a bench outside a shooting range or on a movie set -- takes more thought for the person shooting. You need to look around and consider what you’re aiming at is safe and what is behind that target.

In all the situations I’ve written about for work, I was under pressure from the production around me. I felt rushed. But I kept centering myself by coming back to the safety rules. I would rather say something on TV that was wrong or sounded stupid than make a mistake with a gun. In stressful situations, our brains focus on what we need to do immediately to stay alive. 

The reports that the “Rust” set had a lot of problems form unions to production, tells me that no one should have been using any guns at that time. They should have waited to film those scenes when nerves were settled and people were thinking clearly.

The most famous and powerful person on that desert set - Alec Baldwin- ought to have said no to using guns. And if he had to do it for the production schedule, he should have taken more time to abide by the rules and not trust other people.

Baldwin using media to blame crew

The Baldwin legal and PR team is pushing a narrative in the media that places blame on the crew and not the actor.

The Baldwin Dream Team’s No. 1 target is the armorer, Hannah Reed-Gutierrez, who is portrayed as a silly TikTok girl who is not up to the job and is being blamed for putting the live round in the revolver.

However we don’t know that she did that because the guns were on a table outside the set, and she was not allowed inside the church near Baldwin due to COVID restriction. Of the two other guns she left on the outside table, one was a single-action revolver altered to not function and the other was just a plastic prop. The sheriff said there were other live rounds -- meaning with lead bullets in them -- found on the “Rust” set. 

Baldwin’s Dream Team Target No. 2 for blame for the homicide is the assistant director David Halls….

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