The tragic accident that occurred on a New Mexico movie set Oct. 21, when actor Alec Baldwin fired a vintage revolver he apparently thought was loaded with blanks, or unloaded, has prompted a lot of social media commentary.
The film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, 42, was killed when Baldwin pulled the trigger and the movie's director, Joel Souza, was wounded.
Authorities are sorting out facts and determining who was responsible. Someone obviously was at fault, or multiple people, and it's a safe bet charges will be filed.
Among comments I've read online, foremost is that a fundamental rule of firearms handling was broken when Baldwin, among others, failed to check the cylinder of the revolver while handling the gun.
If he had, the thinking goes, he would have seen that one or more of the cylinder's chambers were loaded. Whether he could have distinguished between live rounds and blanks, or, alternatively, "dummy'' rounds, is unknown.
I wasn't there so I'll leave others to comment and judge. I also don't know anything about making movies, except to say that so much gunfire, explosions and pyrotechnics are displayed so often in so many films, that if every actor were allowed the privilege — or responsibility — of questioning the safety of every scene, rather than leave that work to experts, few movies would get made.
The Baldwin incident did, however, remind me anew, as it should some 500,000 Minnesotans on the cusp of another firearms deer season that begins Saturday, that gun accidents are called accidents for a reason: They are, as Webster defines them, "unfortunate incidents that happen unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.''
To their credit, Minnesota hunters haven't recorded a single firearms-related fatality in the last two years, the first time that has happened during back-to-back hunting seasons.
Yet even a casual glance at the accompanying chart that details non-fatal Minnesota gun accidents that occurred among Minnesota hunters last year illustrates the many ways these mishaps can occur.
In accident No. 1, a man shot himself in the foot while loading a rifle. The fellow was 53 years old and had taken hunter safety classes.
In accident No. 4, a 20-year-old hunter who also had taken hunter education fired at two geese he and a friend dropped. But one or more of the birds wasn't dead when it hit the ground, so the hunters fired again. A BB subsequently ricocheted off a rock and hit one of the hunters in the leg.
Accident No. 5 might seem like an outlier: A dog knocked down a hunter's gun and the dog's paw somehow hit the trigger causing the gun to discharge. Hunters who prop up unsecured guns against vehicles or in hunting blinds are especially at risk for these accidents.
Notwithstanding these mishaps, fewer hunting injuries are recorded per 100,000 participants than in cycling, bowling, golf or tennis.
Moreover, hunting is far safer in Minnesota today than it once was. In 1961, 29 hunters died, with another 20 dying in '65 and double-digit deaths occurring from that year through 1969, with the exception of 1963.
Department of Natural Resources education programs manager Capt. Jon Paurus cites required hunter education and firearms safety training, beginning in 1991, as a primary reason fewer hunting accidents are occurring.
"The requirement in 1986 for blaze orange or red to be worn by deer hunters, and the dropping in 1994 of the red option were also important,'' Paurus said.
Additionally, large deer drives that occurred in years past have generally been replaced by hunters sitting in stands.
These changes among others have resulting in gun accidents among Minnesota hunters falling from as many as 5 per 10,000 licenses sold to about 0.1.
Firearms hunting accidents will remain few and far between, Paurus said, if hunters practice safe gun handling.
• Treat every firearm as if it's loaded.
• Control a gun's muzzle to ensure it's not pointing at someone or swinging in another person's direction.
• Be sure of your target and what's beyond it.
• Keep the gun's safe on and your finger outside the trigger guard until the gun is ready to fire.
I would add a few more that I practice:
• While walking to a deer stand in the dark, I wear a lighted headlamp to remind nearby hunters, if any, that I'm a person, not a deer.
• While deer hunting, unless I'm alone, I won't walk in the woods with a round in the chamber. Nor will I allow other deer hunters to walk behind me with chambered rounds. I've tripped and stumbled too many times and have seen too many other hunters do likewise.
• I never climb into or out of a stand with a round chambered. Depending on the stand, I'll use a haul line to pull up my gun and lower it down.
• I always turn away and walk a few steps from fellow hunters when loading or unloading my gun. I expect others to do the same.
The bottom line is that anyone who has hunted a reasonably long time knows someone personally, or has heard of someone, affected by a firearms accident.
• An older friend when I was in high school who frequently took me duck hunting was in medical school when a fellow bird hunter fired a round that cost my friend his left arm. He became a pharmacist instead.
• Another friend lost an eye to a shotgun pellet.
• A friend and I were at a game farm a few years back when he fired at a flushing pheasant while misjudging the distance to his SUV, shattering the vehicle's side window.
• A friend I hunted grouse with frequently and who was a champion skeet shooter who knew a lot about guns called me one night, shaken, to report he had mistakenly driven home to the Twin Cities from Aitkin without unloading his double gun. During the trip, the gun lay cased in the back of his station wagon, pointing at him, with his two dogs curled up nearby.
• And a friend some years ago discharged a handgun he thought was unloaded, killing a young woman. Visiting him in prison during his manslaughter sentence was a grim reminder to me that when guns are involved, absent a lot of care and a little luck, things can go wrong pretty quickly.
And not just in movies.