Lessons unlearned? Alec Baldwin's father was riflery coach at high school

Baldwin's possible familiarity with the fundamentals of firearm safety "could be relevant" to his potential civil or criminal liability, "but it is not determinative," said legal scholar and commentator Jonathan Turley.

Updated: October 27, 2021 - 11:13pm

Actor Alec Baldwin, a gun control activist who accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza with a live round from a gun during filming of the movie "Rust," is the son of a high school riflery coach.

Baldwin's father, Alexander Rae Baldwin, Jr., who died at the age of 55 in 1983, "was an expert marksman in riflery" who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps "for medical reasons after being shot, accidentally, during rifle instruction on Parris Island," Baldwin wrote in a Father's Day tribute for the Huffington Post in 2009.

The elder Baldwin "was coach of the Massapequa High School rifle team, which went to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association state riflery championship twice during his career," according to his son.

The actor added that doctors had informed him "that the inhalation of lead dust from working in an unventilated rifle range may have contributed significantly" to his father's death.

"On Parris Island in 1945, a bullet would not kill him," Baldwin wrote. "But bullets eventually did, at the age of 55, from lymph cancer that spread through his body."

His sister, Beth, had asked for sample materials from the range to determine toxicity levels, according to Baldwin's memoir, "Nevertheless," Syracuse.com reported. But the school completely gutted the range "in order to shield the district, and themselves, from the litigation we were exploring," the actor wrote.

The school still has a rifle team, and Baldwin's younger brother, Daniel, passed along this shooting advice from his father in a video message to the team earlier this year, News 12 The Bronx reported: "I can remember my father saying these words: 'Take a deep breath in, slowly exhale, and squeeze the trigger.' And you let it go. Do my dad proud." 

In 2018, Alec Baldwin joined the No Rifle Association (NoRA), a celebrity coalition with the goal of exposing the alleged hold of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the U.S. government, according to Fox News.

He has previously tweeted at former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, saying: "I see that @DLoesch wants to 'take back the truth.' And she doesn't care how many dead bodies she has to step over in that pursuit. The Second Amendment is not a moral credit card that buys you all the guns you want. That law needs to be rethought."

Following the news of Baldwin accidentally shooting Hutchins and Souza, Loesch tweeted, "After all the crazy s--- Alec Baldwin has said to and about me, I'm going to have more grace than him right now and leave it at that."

Legal scholar Jonathan Turley told Just the News regarding Baldwin's possible familiarity with the fundamentals of firearm safety that "it could be relevant" to his potential civil or criminal liability, "but it is not determinative.

"The underlying question is likely Baldwin's culpability not as an actor but as a producer," Turley wrote in an email. "A reasonable actor would likely take the word of an assistant director that he was given a cold gun, particularly if the armorer is present. The key issue for both criminal and civil liability is the degree to which the producers maintained a site without due caution and circumspection. The set for Rust appears to have dispensed with basic safety precautions and protocols. It seemed like an accident waiting to happen."

According to court records, the film's assistant director, Dave Halls, grabbed the period gun and told Baldwin it was a "cold gun," meaning the weapon was unloaded, as he handed it to him.

Andrew Branca, a legal expert who has written on the possible charges Baldwin might face, told Just the News that just because Baldwin's father was experienced in firearms, it does not indicate that he is.

"In any case, it doesn't matter — Alec Baldwin appears liable for the involuntary manslaughter of Halyna Hutchins on the apparent facts as we know them," Branca wrote. "That is, he was handling an inherently dangerous instrument, the gun, without due care and circumspection by failing to ensure it did not have live ammo in before pointing the muzzle at Ms. Hutchins and pressing the trigger. Under New Mexico law, that's involuntary manslaughter.

"It doesn't matter what his actual firearms knowledge is — when handling an inherently dangerous instrument, safe handling is an absolute requirement, and one is not excused merely because one proves incompetent. The same legal standard would apply to the use of explosives or dangerous chemicals or heavy construction equipment — anything readily capable of causing death, serious injury, substantial property destruction, if not used with due concern for safety."