Alec Baldwin’s gun and the problem of causality

(Not the set of “Rust”)

“Why” questions never have a satisfying answer, because everything is connected.

We know that Alec Baldwin picked up a period-appropriate gun that was supposed to be a prop on the set of the western “Rust” and accidentally shot and killed his cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded his director Joel Souza.


It’s natural to ask why this bizarre tragedy happened. Facts are still emerging. But “why” questions are, in the end, impossible to answer. Here’s an incomplete list of reasons I’ve heard for why two people got shot on a film set. It’s because:

  • Baldwin should have checked the gun first.
  • Baldwin should never have pointed a weapon at another person.
  • The armorer on the set, Hanna Gutierrez-Reed, should have checked the gun for live ammunition.
  • Guttierez-Reed was too inexperienced to do her job properly.
  • Other people on the set were using the guns for target practice before the incident occurred, and must have left the gun loaded.
  • The set was run in an unprofessional way, increasing the risk.
  • Producers attempting to lower costs are always cutting corners; this is the result.
  • There should never be live guns on a movie set; it’s safer to simulate everything with digital effects.
  • There are too many gunfights in movies and on TV; why do we need so many?
  • America’s gun culture is to blame; we love guns so much that people get accidentally shot every day, even on film sets.

Take your pick. All of these answers are right in their own way. Which one you choose to believe depends at least as much on your own prejudices as it does on what happened. Causality is complicated. There is no one “reason” why anything happens, and especially now, politicians and pundits of every bent attempt to twist every possible event into a reason why they are right and their opponents are dangerous and stupid.

Bigger events are even more complicated

Assuming you believe global warming exists, why does it exist? Because we use too many fossil fuels; because we eat too much meat; because there are so many leaks in hydrocarbon production and transportation; because we are too dependent on cars; because there are just too many of us on the planet. All of the above.

Why is the US federal deficit exploding? Because we cut taxes too much; because the government spends too much money; because there is too much waste and fraud; because the defense budget is bloated; because no one in Washington has any commitment to fiscal discipline. All of the above.

Why did the pandemic happen? Because of wet markets in China; because we didn’t stop international travel soon enough; because people didn’t wear masks and socially distance; because we didn’t all take vaccines; because we have lots of other health problems that make us susceptible; because we pack people together too closely in too many situations; because nobody washes their hands; because people are woefully uneducated about science and disease; because Facebook is feeding people falsehoods about diseases and vaccines.

All. Of. The. Above.

It is human to seek causes for things. We want to know why it happened. We want to know who to blame. That will never stop.

But a better question is: how can we make things better?

And the answer is always, always, a combination of things. Changing policies, changing attitudes, changing laws: all might help.

But as much as you want to blame Alec Baldwin, or Hanna Gutierrez-Reed, or movies in general, or guns in general, it’s always complicated.

We can do better. But there is never a simple answer.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks Josh this is so well said.. Its a common frustration of mine.. we all need to appreciate the beauty of grey.. i.e. all of the above. Black and white rarely exists and is not helpful when trying to understand and/or make a difference in a given situation.. but its often seen as weak and indecisive.