When I was first elected to the Board of the National Rifle Association in 2000, I had the honor of taking a seat beside some of the people I had previously only been able to admire from a distance. I sat next to General Joe Foss, the legendary World War II ace and Medal of Honor winner who served not only as NRA President but Governor of South Dakota and Commissioner of the American Football League. Journalist and author Tom Brokaw devoted a chapter in his “The Greatest Generation” to Mr. Foss, and I quickly decided that my role as a new Board member would be to bring him coffee.
But there were others. Tom Selleck and Roy Innes were on the Board then, and Charlton Heston was President. It was also a pleasure to meet and get to know Jeff Cooper and his wife. Mr. Cooper was a legend, an articulate Second Amendment advocate, accomplished hunter, firearms instructor and author. He had written for Guns & Ammo and founded a shooting school in Arizona at which he developed and taught shooting and the use of firearms for self-defense. Mr. Cooper died in 2005 and had sold the school, which is now known as Gunsite, still employing methods pioneered by Mr. Cooper and the most prestigious facility of its type in the country.
It was Mr. Cooper who convinced pistol and revolver users to abandon the old one-handed manner of holding and aiming a handgun in favor of the two-handed grip now universally employed except by drug-crazed gang bangers and Hollywood actors. It was Mr. Cooper who harped on his four rules for handling any firearm.
It’s a tragedy that Alec Baldwin never met Jeff Cooper or read anything the man wrote. Mr. Baldwin carried guns in some of his movies but apparently knew little about how they should be handled. If he’d been familiar with Mr. Cooper’s four rules, the accident that took the life of cinematographer Holyna Hutchins would have been avoided.
Mr. Cooper’s rules were simple enough:
1. All guns are always loaded and should be treated as such even if one “knows” they aren’t.
2. One should never let the muzzle of any gun cover anyone or anything one is not ready to destroy.
3. When holding a gun, one must keep one’s finger off the trigger until one’s sights are on the intended target.
4. A shooter must know and identify not only his target but what’s behind it and around it before firing at it.
Anyone who ignores these simple rules is guilty of negligence or worse. Mr. Baldwin was apparently told by whoever handed him the “prop” gun he fired on the set of the movie was unloaded. The resulting tragedy would have been avoided if Mr. Baldwin had had any gun safety training at all. A hunter in the field who carelessly points their gun at another hunter is quickly admonished as careless and won’t be invited back again, and a shooter at a gun, skeet or sporting clays range who wanders about without his gun visibly unloaded will be quickly banished.
Every gun owner knows that safety requires caution whether they’ve read Mr. Cooper or attended a course on firearms safety training or qualified for a concealed carry permit or a hunting license anywhere in the United States or abroad.
Mr. Baldwin has expressed a dislike of firearms ownership over the years. From what he said, one gets the impression that his reflexive hostility to guns, except those he uses in the movies, means he doesn’t pay attention to those who teach safe gun handling. Mr. Cooper had a name for those with what he termed an “unreasoning terror of weapons. He called them “hoplophobic” and felt they had little concrete knowledge of that which terrified them.
Sam Dorum, a Hollywood “armorer,” told a Los Angeles television reporter after the accident in New Mexico that there are strict rules about how “prop” guns are to be handled and that actors, as well as the support crew, receive training in firearms safety before and during the filming of movies.
Accidents happen, but firearms accidents involving gun owners are exceedingly rare. In fact, there were, according to government figures, more accidental shootings in a nation with far fewer people and firearms a hundred years ago than there are today.
That’s because of people like Jeff Cooper and those who have taken his rules to heart. Such accidents result from carelessness or downright negligence by those who don’t know the rules or ignore them.
One must wonder into which of these categories Mr. Baldwin falls.
• David Keene is editor-at-large for the Washington Times.