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.

ladydye_5

The instructor was just as negligent.

tk

And a child has to live with the knowledge that she killed someone.

44846GWP

The parents AND the victim are morons.

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

That's something you have in common then...

44846GWP

Turd.

rottnrog

The NRA is giving the girl a free life membership for a job well done !!!!!

coasterfan

The sad thing is that it wouldn't surprise a lot of us if Wayne LaPierre actually did that.

SanduskyMomOf3

That poor little girl. I hope that her parents get her some serious counseling.

holysee

"Bullets and Brats" would be a better name for the gun range.

sandtown born a...

Are they johnsonville

Rosa

OMG,just when you think you heard it all, such idiocy...borders upon child abuse...

Informed

Not to mention that the target was a human silhouette. Why on earth would anyone think it's okay to teach children (and nine years of age is still very much a young child)to shoot at something that looks human?! What message does that send?
This whole thing makes me sick. Stupid, careless, ignorant parents, and stupid, careless, ignorant gun range employees and management.
Gun ranges should be for adults. Period.

getit right be4...

You sound very unInformed

Informed

What exactly am I uninformed about? Nine-year-olds should not be shooting at gun ranges, and should not be shooting machine guns. End of discussion.

OSUAV8TER

This is a typical misguided opinion from Informed. Millions of children shoot guns safely at ranges every year, and just because of one accident, doesn't mean the federal government should step in and ban every child from shooting. There are millions of responsible gun owners, and Informed fails to realize that. Obviously here, common sense and weapon safety was not being practiced. Unfortunately this was the tragic result. It was an accident, one that rarely happens. In fact, I've never heard of this happening previously. Not every accident needs to be met with additional legislation. The Government cannot legislate our country to complete safety. Now, once again, Informed, is quite uninformed.

Pterocarya frax...

Yeah, it rarely happens:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/273993...

So you are ok with your young child shooting automatic weapons?

Informed

Well, first of all, I guess I am more informed than you because this isn't the first time something bad has happened when a child shoots at a gun range.
Yes, I know there are millions of responsible gun owners. My spouse and I are two. That is neither here nor there.
If parents want to teach a child to shoot, that is their right. However, it should not be at a public place, like a gun range, and should not be with an automatic weapon. There should be minimum ages for places like gun ranges because accidents happen and young children do not have the cognitive or emotional maturity that adults have. Should an accident like this one occur, the child will suffer immense psychological damage.
Yes, something went wrong with weapon safety. People are human and make mistakes. Maybe you are willing to allow children to suffer from those mistakes. I am not.

coasterfan

Interesting that no one responded to your point that we shouldn't have kids aiming at targets shaped like human silhouettes. They don't address it because it's completely undefendable. Kids shooting an UZI is bad enough, but to allow them to shoot an UZI at a simulated human target?

If they are trying to justify their viewpoint, they have some huge problems to address before anyone else will see them as reasonable people.

Informed

Exactly. Because no one with any common sense or understanding of child development would agree that it's okay, regardless of political affiliation.
We aren't talking about a teenager. This is a young child who isn't even close to being a teenager.
And I will say it again: Young children have no business either being at a gun range or shooting an Uzi. Period.

deertracker

Great comments from both of you!

Yougotit

Yes, great comments!

WhatTheHeck

Well said.

The Answer Person

I am THRILLED that this happened as it proves the psychotic compulsion these people have for guns. One man dead and a CHILD'S LIFE RUINED not to mention her and his family.

Yep...just what we need MORE GUNS PLEASE!!!

Contango

Re: "I am THRILLED that this happened,"

The mind that conceived that statement IS "psychotic."

arnmcrmn

Anyone THRILLED that this happens needs some serious serious help.

coasterfan

Answer Person's comment was obvious sarcasm. I'm sorry that you are unable to understand that concept.

The Big Dog's back

Little minds, little knowledge=right wingnuts.

From the Grave

Who would let their 9 year old ride a Harley just because they do pretty well on a bike...

arnmcrmn

Um, you cannot ride a Harley at 9, that is illegal.

coasterfan

And why is that? Because we know that a 9-year-old on a Harley is a danger to himself and to others. So, we passed a law on minimum age to drive a motorcycle.

We absolutely need to do the same thing with guns, since they are certainly more lethal than motorcycles.

deertracker

Seems elementary to me.

knowitall

Right on Coaster. Great analogy.

Contango

Sam Scarmardo, the gun range's operator "noted that this was the first time anyone was injured on his ranges."

"We probably got close to 100,000 people that have shot between the two ranges in the last 14 years and several million rounds of ammunition and to date we've never even handed out a band aid,"

Risk can be minimized, it can NEVER be totally eliminated.

Sh*t happens.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/a...

Babo

Was it a foreseeable risk that if one allows a 9 year old girl to shoot an UZI that there may be recoil and a bystander hit and injured or killed? Yes.

The civil tort system will correct and punish this business owner and the parents for their exceptionally poor judgment. The family of the instructor will sue the range owner and the girl's parents for negligence and wrongful death. The girl's family will also sue the range owner for negligently allowing her to shoot an UZI. The tort system will sort out contributory negligence and allocate the financial settlement accordingly of which lawyers receive anywhere from 33% to 50%.

Contango

Agree. No doubt 'lawyers are standing by.'

Lawsuits have helped to kill and prevent much business risk taking and entrepreneurial initiative in this country, e.g. small private aircraft weren't mfged for yrs.

Yrs. ago, when I used to skydive, I signed an agreement that held the school TOTALLY harmless.

The only guarantee I was given was that the chute that I was using had operated correctly for it's previous user.

We were also taught that we were ultimately responsible for our safety (don't rely TOTALLY on the jumpmaster) and if we saw something that we didn't agree with, we were to speak up or act accordingly.

The Big Dog's back

I'm not so sure your chute opened on your last jump.

jazzb0

It was ok , he safely landed on his head.

knowitall

That's the American way!

knowitall

That is why these gun ranges should not be stupid about it. The risk of an 8 year old ( they let 8 year olds on this range) is a lot greater than a more mature toddler. This guy does friggin birthday parties!

ohioengineer

As usual, the readers are way ahead of the Sandusky Register on this one. The issue in this case, despite the bold SR headlines to the contrary, is not guns but parents. If guns were completely outlawed, we would still have parents who would let their children fly airplanes, climb mountains and do other dangerous things young bodies are not prepared for - either physically or mentally.

Whether driven by the desire to be their child's best friend or the compulsion to relive their own failed childhood, our nation is filled with parents today who have no concept of the tremendous responsibility that comes with reproduction. We see these parents in the check-out line, at school soccer matches and now apparently at gun ranges. Who would ever have thought that we would need a law prohibiting nine-year olds from firing Uzi's? We appear well on our way to becoming a nation of idiots.

coasterfan

Not really. The Register is correct: without the Uzi, no one would have been killed. BOTH were part of the problem: the gun and the adults. To pretend that the gun wasn't part of the problem is incorrect.

My favorite hobby is community theatre. It became a hobby for my kids, too. I have yet to read about/hear about anyone being killed by the act of acting onstage. It's simply impossible to kill or be killed by speaking, singing or dancing.

Some choose guns and gun activities as their hobby. Guns are lethal, and people die all the time using them. If you choose a hobby that is lethal, I think that's where the mistake was made. We all know the studies that have shown that a gun is 20 more times likely to kill a family member than an intruder. Putting an UZI in your schoolkid's hand is just the latest in a string of bad decisions you've made.

Guns and other weapons are the ONLY products I can think of which - when used properly - can result in someone's death.

Contango

Re: "intruder."

Individuals & homeowners using firearms in order to protect their lives and those of their families don't make for good liberal press.

Responsible use messes up their anti-Second Amend. agenda.

"Guns Save Lives":

http://gunssavelives.net/

-------------------

Re: "ONLY products I can think of which - when used properly,"

Tobacco.

From which the fed, state and local govts. garner millions in tax money.

Mum-of-One

There are many things we need to teach our 9 year old daughters but shooting a sub machine gun is not one of them.

deertracker

So true!!!!!!

SamAdams

There are currently no laws that state

1. Never point a loaded gun at anything you don't intend to kill; and

2. Every gun is ALWAYS loaded.

There shouldn't NEED to be any laws that say something that should be so obvious, even to those who've never fired a gun in their lives. Apparently, we can now add one more to the ultimate in simple common sense gun control:

3. DON'T FIRE A GUN THAT'S TOO POWERFUL FOR YOU TO HANDLE.

Again, duh.

I only partially agree with ohioengineer: We're not "well on our way to becoming a nation of idiots." Apparently, we're already there!

coasterfan

Nah, we need laws to cover those things, just like we need laws that set a maximum speed limit and keep us from building a 300' bonfire in our backyard next to our neighbor's garage. People do stupid things all the time, and if there are no ramifications for acts that cause damage or injury to others, we have anarchy.

Informed

Exactly.

knowitall

Apparently we need one. However, didn't Cheny shoot his fellow hunters ear off?

meowmix

Aw what the hell, next week hand her a bazooka and see if she can take out a crowd of people. After all, bazooka's don't kill people, little girls with bazooka's kill people.

DickTracey

On the bright side, she will have the best answer in class, when school starts and the teacher asks,

"What did you do this summer?"

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”

I never saw anyone shoot someone dead with their finger.

44846GWP

I'm showing you my finger right now.

knowitall

Lol

Contango

The liberals have little problem with militarizing the police and the unconstitutionality of a standing army.

"To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;"

- Article 1, Section 8.

But they have little issue with trampling the Second Amendment.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

What part of "shall not be infringed," don't they understand?

If there was a registration process and licensing for the use of the First Amendment regarding free speech, they'd be screaming for their rights.

Gotta love the liberals and their 'pick and choose' cafeteria understanding of the U.S. Constitution.

knowitall

Off topic......again.

Contango

Re: "Off topic,"

How so?

And if that's the case you had better get busy pointing that out to 90% of the comments on this article. :)

FYI: 99.9% of the species that have ever existed on Earth are extinct.

Humankind is apparently evolutionarily designed to find new and better ways to help kill off one another.

The 20th Century was the bloodiest in world History. Bet we can do better in the 21st!

Better protect yourself against those who would do you and yours harm.

I've got a 9 mm. What have you got?

"Happiness is a warm gun" - John Lennon

From the Grave

The Middle Eastern 9 year olds don't have any trouble handling an Uzi.

knowitall

So, send your kids to the Middle East. Are you really making a comparison? Come on! That was a joke, right? You must be kidding. I will assume you are trying to crack a joke.

Contango

Re: "So, send your kids to the Middle East."

We have many young men & women stationed there; and they come to us as in 9/11.

See the above "08/28/2014 - 2:57pm" comment: Why do you think that our founders were against a standing army?

knowitall

The owner of this shooting range does shooting birthday parties for 8 year olds! That's what I am giving my 3rd grade kid for his birthday. Even if this is legal, does it make sense to do? The potential (no longer potential though) for accidents like what happened are much, much greater for these toddlers. It is an accident waiting to happen...... again.

KURTje

Knowitall again. Also ran - well you know.

pntbutterandjelly

I have seen many posts here that suggest we need additional, if not stronger, gun regulations for shooting ranges due to this tragic incident. "That" smacks of more government regulation and is what many of you claim to be against in post after post.
It's odd how when the proverbial shoe pinches "some" people in the wrong way...they change their minds about our government's role in today's society. You can't have it both ways.
Of COURSE shooting ranges need to be regulated for everyone's protect. It's just like getting a "right to carry" license is a farce as far as the overall training is concerned. Then again...regulation in any degree is "bad". (not)

pntbutterandjelly

If common sense, fairness and decency are absent...then we need to regulate it or pay the price. THAT is why we need someone to oversee the frailties and inherent misgivings of the Human race. Then it becomes a question of balance of too much regulation vs. not enough and...can we keep one person or entity from gaining too much control over another. That balance is hard to find and harder still to maintain.

Contango

Re: "can we keep one person or entity from gaining too much control over another,"

FA Hayek in the "Road to Serfdom" says that even the best, well intentioned rules and regs will eventually be misused by those who would gain socio-economic power.

Think: Murphy's Law. If it can be misused, it will be.

You make some good points.

SpanishHarlem2011

So, now, Minor children can carry Concealed weapons now? WOW!

Yougotit

Only if they have taken the class and have a permit. That fixes the problem!!! Lol

Bozo1

Where were this child's parents thinking?

Bozo1

What were this child's parents thinking?

Yougotit

Bozo......do you stutter?