Shooting by 9-year-old stirs debate over guns

Girl at firing range accidentally shoots, kills instructor
Associated Press
Aug 27, 2014

The accidental shooting death of a firing-range instructor by a 9-year-old girl with an Uzi has set off a powerful debate over youngsters and guns, with many people wondering what sort of parents would let a child handle a submachine gun.

Instructor Charles Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl Monday at the Last Stop range in White Hills, Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, when she squeezed the trigger. The recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head.

Investigators said they do not plan to seek charges.

Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence, said that it was reckless to let the girl handle such a powerful weapon and that tighter regulations regarding children and guns are needed.

"We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park," Hills said. Referring to the girl's parents, Hills said: "I just don't see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi."

The identities of the girl and her family have not been released.

Sam Scarmardo, who operates the outdoor range in the desert, said Wednesday that the parents had signed waivers saying they understood the rules and were standing nearby, video-recording their daughter, when the accident happened.

Investigators released 27 seconds of the footage showing the girl from behind as she fires at a black-silhouette target. The footage, which does not show the instructor actually being shot, helped feed the furor on social media and beyond.

"I have regret we let this child shoot, and I have regret that Charlie was killed in the incident," Scarmardo said. He said he doesn't know what went wrong, pointing out that Vacca was an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2008, an 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun expo near Springfield, Massachusetts. Christopher Bizilj was firing at pumpkins when the gun kicked back. A former Massachusetts police chief whose company co-sponsored the gun show was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

Two gun experts said Wednesday that what types of firearms a child can handle depend largely on the strength and experience of the child — though the notion of giving a 9-year-old a fully automatic Uzi made some queasy.

"So much of it depends on the maturity of the child and the experience of the range officer," said Joe Waldron, a shooting instructor and legislative director of the Washington State Rifle and Pistol Association.

Dave Workman, senior editor at thegunmag.com and a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said it can be safe to let children shoot an automatic weapon if a properly trained adult is helping them hold it.

After viewing the video of the Arizona shooting, Workman said Vacca appeared to have tried to help the girl maintain control by placing his left hand under the weapon. But automatic weapons tend to recoil upward, he noted.

"If it was the first time she'd ever handled a full-auto firearm, it's a big surprise when that gun continues to go off," said Workman, a firearms instructor for 30 years. "I've even seen adults stunned by it."

Lindsey Zwicker of the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence said that after the 2008 tragedy in Massachusetts, Connecticut adopted a law banning anyone under 16 from handling machine guns at shooting ranges.

"This is an action states can do to prevent something like this from happening again," she said.

Scarmardo said his policy of allowing children 8 and older to fire guns under adult supervision and the watchful eye of an instructor is standard practice in the industry. The range's policies are under review, he said.

Arizona has long had a strong pro-gun culture, including weapon ranges that promote events for children and families. Some of these ranges offer people the thrill of firing weapons such as the Israeli-made Uzi that are heavily restricted and difficult for members of the public to obtain.

The Scottsdale Gun Club in recent years has allowed children and families to pose with Santa Claus while holding machine guns and other weapons from the club. Children as young as 10 are allowed to hunt big game such as elk and deer in Arizona, provided they have completed a hunter safety course.

Scarmardo, who has been operating the gun range for more than a year and has run another for 14 years, said he hasn't had a safety problem before at his ranges.

"We never even issued a Band-Aid," Scarmardo said.

Comments

knowitall

Why in the world would some parent allow a young girl learn to shoot an Uzi?

SamAdams

This isn't about gun safety. It's about simple common sense (which, come to think of it, is what gun safety is at its most basic).

Unfortunately, the person most to blame here is the man who's dead. Kids don't know any better. The girl's parents SHOULD have known better, but obviously didn't. But it's an instructor's JOB to have the knowledge and experience to make such calls no matter WHAT the kid or the kid's dad says is okay or insist that they want! Weapons on full automatic are rough for an adult to physically handle much less a child who probably weighs in at well under 100 lbs.

This is a tragic accident in more ways than one. Children SHOULD learn to handle firearms safely. And they CAN, provided they're given training with guns they can actually physically handle. A poor judgment call by the adults concerned here just gives fodder to those who would add still more rules and regulations to the already onerous laws on the books where guns are concerned, and it will waste legislative time and energy (not to mention protests on both sides of the fence) even as such a law will rarely, if ever, come into play.

knowitall

I am an NRA member. I don't have a problem with older children learning how to shoot guns. I learned first with a single shot pellet gun. But, not an Uzi. Also, the girl was 9 years old. She shot OK with single shot. She could not handle the recoil in auto. She is only 9 years old!
I agree with you the instructor should have known better. Too bad for him. I sure don't blame the girl. I imagine this will affect her negatively for the rest of her life. I hope she gets counseling.

WeThePeople1965

I agree completely. It's not the girls' fault at all. The instructors' stupidity killed him. I feel bad for her.

ladydye_5

The video showed he placed his hand UNDER the weapon to help hold it?!?!?! Recoil goes UP not down. DUH?!!? I agree, this child will live with this due to his incompetence. How was he able to be an instructor?

coasterfan

Why can't we do both? Encourage better gun safety/universal background checks AND employ common sense?

Sam is right, in that this was totally caused by poor choices made by the adults. This situation shows that firing range employees and parents don't always show common sense with regards to firearms. There also seems to be a lack of knowledge on the employee as to how the gun could/would recoil.

We require children to be age 16 in order to drive a car, age 18 to vote, age 18 to enlist in the armed forces, yet we see no problem in allowing a child of 9 (or younger) to own/use a gun. And this was an UZI.

We have many other laws to prevent adults being irresponsible and putting kids in harms way. It's time to address this situation with new legislation, and I don't think the NRA/gun lobby should be part of that discussion.

SamAdams

Sorry, Coaster, but you're wrong about the requirements for owning a firearm. You must be 18 or older to get a long gun, and 21 or older to get a handgun. That's not to say you can't USE either whether you're younger or not, but you can't legally GET one.

I also disagree with yet another law that effectively says, "You're stupid, so I'll decide for you." Yes, there are stupid people out there. But we already have irons with tags that tell you to remove your shirt before you iron it! And as dumb as THAT is, there are some 30 year-olds I wouldn't trust anywhere NEAR a firearm, and some 10 year-olds who are perfectly qualified and safe.

arnmcrmn

Lack of parenting and lack of common sense from this instructor.

deertracker

Sam is right! This is on the adults. Especially the instructor.

holysee

Instructor failed darwin test in multiple ways, I'm certain he died doing what he loved!

modern concrete

Well this instructor must not of enforce gun safety. The gun was too much for a young child.

xtensionofme

According to the news article in CNN, the range Bullets & Burgers, allowed anyone from age 8 to 17 to shoot, as long as they're accompanied by a parent or guardian. Unbelievable!

getit right be4...

My son has been shooting from the age of 4.

It is not the age that is the problem here. You have to match the skill and the strength of the shooter with the firearm they are using.

coasterfan

Some of us DO think that the age is a problem. Unless you live in an extremely rural area and need a gun to hunt for your daily meals, I fail to see why any pre-teen kid needs to have firearms.

America is very different than any other First World country on this topic, aren't we?

WeThePeople1965

A BB gun, pellet, airsoft, and light, basic shotguns and rifles and maybe a handgun could be considered for that age. Beginners and children just don't have the coordination and strength for an Uzi. Shooting blanks would be optimal. It's better to learn to shoot young. I didn't learn to shoot until I was 16 when I went to hunt with my boyfriend at the time. My husband who is a veteran of the Marines taught my two boys extensively, and he taught my daughter safety. He'd never let them handle a high-powered gun, however. There's no point.

Pterocarya frax...

"Investigators said they do not plan to seek charges."

I charge the parents with "utter and total stupidity".

rottnrog

Agreed,go after the parents !!!

knowitall

Nah. Don't go after anyone. Terrible accident.

Pterocarya frax...

Typical NRA response...sad.

It will serve her parents and the NRA right if this child grows up to be a strong gun control activist.

knowitall

Who do you want to go after and why? Great if she becomes a gun control activist. There are things about gun control I like. Read my earlier post. Do I sound like a typical NRA member?
Yours is a typical close minded person's response. How sad!

knowitall

Typical closed minded person's response.....sad.

Pterocarya frax...

If thinking parents shouldn't allow 9 year olds to shoot Uzis is closeminded, then I will wear that badge with honor.

Now, because of her parents' stupidity, that poor child has to live with that horror the rest of her life.

Now that is sad.

knowitall

No, that is not close minded. Your "typical" comment regarding me giving a typical NRA response. An NRA member does not have to be a right wing nut job.
Make sure you read all my earlier comments completely.

Pterocarya frax...

If you are such a fan of the NRA, then give me some insight here. I didn't expect the NRA to have a response about this incident because...you know...kids just wanna have fun.

But where is the NRA's response about the shootings in the St. Louis area? Normally the NRA is all about keeping our gun rights so we can fight back against the big awful gubmint...you know, like when the police shoot unarmed citizens. But on those 2 shootings, all I hear is crickets. I wonder why?

As an NRA member, maybe you can explain that.

knowitall

As far as I am concerned the fear of big brother coming after someone is not there. However, a handgun for personal safety is ok. As is rifles used for hunting. Saturday night specials and machine guns should be illegal.
Ok, I won't sign up next time.

Contango

Re: "big brother coming after someone is not there."

Our founders who favored limited govt. would disagree.

For one, see: FDR's Executive Order 9066.

NEVER say: It can't happen here.

coasterfan

The problem is that most NRA members appear to be rightwing nut jobs.

knowitall

You know Coaster that I am a left winger. But, you are correct, most are what you say.

Florence Nightingale

Not surprisingly, I agree with your statements, knowitall. Yet another example of how moderates can find common ground.

knowitall

Florence. I like you.

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