SAG-AFTRA Defends Alec Baldwin amid New “Rust ”Charges: 'Actor's Job Is Not to Be a Firearms or Weapons Expert'

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"Performers train to perform, and they are not required or expected to be experts on guns," SAG-AFTRA said in a statement released Thursday, in part

<p>Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic</p> Alec Baldwin in New York City on March 20, 2017

Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

Alec Baldwin in New York City on March 20, 2017

SAG-AFTRA is speaking out in support of Alec Baldwin, amid recent news that he has been indicted by a New Mexico grand jury and charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2021 Rust shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

"To the extent that the charges filed on January 19 are based on an accusation of negligent use of a firearm predicated on this or any actor having a duty to inspect a firearm as part of its use, that is an incorrect assessment of the actual duties of an actor on set," the union began in a statement released Thursday.

"An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert," the statement continued. "Firearms are provided for use on set under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm."

Attorneys for the on-set armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, declined to comment on Thursday, while attorneys for Hutchins' family and widower, Matthew Hutchins, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

According to SAG-AFTRA, "the Industry Standards for safety with firearms and use of blank ammunition are clearly laid out in Safety Bulletin 1, provided by the Joint Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Commission."

"The guidelines require an experienced, qualified armorer to be put in charge of all handling, use, and safekeeping of firearms on set," the statement went on. "These duties include 'inspecting the firearm and barrel before and after every firing sequence,' and 'checking all firearms before each use.' "

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Courtesy of Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office Alec Baldwin on the set of <em>Rust</em>
Courtesy of Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office Alec Baldwin on the set of Rust

Related: How Can Alec Baldwin Be Charged Again for the Shooting of Halyna Hutchins? A Legal Expert Explains

SAG-AFTRA claimed that the aforementioned guidelines "do not make it the performer’s responsibility to check any firearm," noting, "Performers train to perform, and they are not required or expected to be experts on guns or experienced in their use."

"The industry assigns that responsibility to qualified professionals who oversee their use and handling in every aspect. Anyone issued a firearm on set must be given training and guidance in its safe handling and use, but all activity with firearms on a set must be under the careful supervision and control of the professional armorer and the employer," they concluded.

Baldwin, 65, was holding a prop gun in October 2021 on the set of the Western when it discharged, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. The cinematographer was 42 years old.

getty (3) From L: Halyna Hutchins; Alec Baldwin; Joel Souza
getty (3) From L: Halyna Hutchins; Alec Baldwin; Joel Souza

Related: Everything to Know About Alec Baldwin's 'Rust' Shooting Charges, and What Happens Next?

The 30 Rock actor has repeatedly maintained that he did not know the gun mistakenly contained a live bullet, and also claimed he did not pull the trigger.

Baldwin was previously charged with involuntary manslaughter one year ago, before charges were dropped three months later. He is now charged with involuntary manslaughter (negligent use of a firearm) or alternatively, with involuntary manslaughter (without due caution or circumspection).

With this new charge, the actor faces up to 18 months in prison, according to New Mexico law.

Gutierrez-Reed was also previously charged with involuntary manslaughter. She has pled not guilty, and is set to stand trial in February.

Legal representatives for Baldwin have not responded to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

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