Serious questions are being raised following the tragedy in Arizona on Monday, where a 9-year-old girl who lost control while shooting a semi automatic gun killed her instructor. Charles Vacca, a firearms instructor at Bullets and Burgers shooting range just outside of Las Vegas, was instructing the girl on how to stand and positioning her toward the target. What happened next has been the subject of intense debate across social media.
A 27-second video recently released by the County Sheriff’s office, shows 39-year-old Vacca talking to the girl and telling her to fire a single shot, which she does. “Alright,” Vacca is heard saying on the tape. He then appears to adjust a switch on the weapon as the girl braces for round two before the video suddenly ends. This is when many believe that the 9-year-old started to fire the gun again but lost control. Ballistic reports are saying that the recoil from the shot is what caused the weapon to snap back, shooting Vacca in the head. He was airlifted from the Arizona compound to a Las Vegas hospital, where he reportedly died.
The incident has generated concern from those who wonder if allowing the 9-year-old to handle a sub machine gun in the first place was the right thing to do. Chief operator of Bullets and Burgers, Sam Sarmardo, admitted that the girl’s parents did sign off on waivers confirming that they understood the rules of the shooting range. “I regret the fact that we let this little girl shoot, and I have even deeper regret that Charlie was killed in the way that he was,” he stated.
Serious discussion around the Arizona shooting that involved a girl who was only 9 years old has raised deep questions on where to place the blame: on a young girl learning to handle and shoot an automatic pistol, the professional instructor, the operator of the shooting range or even possibly the parents. While everyone may not agree on the people responsible, the truth is that it has sparked a lot of conversation. Ronald Scott, a firearms safety expert in Phoenix, had this to say about the incident: “You cannot in all good conscience give a 9-year-old a sub machine gun and seriously expect her to control it properly.”
Debate over children firing real guns is far from a new issue, as similar discussions took place in 2008, when 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj from Connecticut accidentally shot and killed himself at a gun expo in Massachusetts. The gun he was using at the time was an Uzi much like the one that ended Vacca’s life. Not long after that shooting, the state of Connecticut agreed to a law which banned anyone under the age of 16 from handling a machine gun, even with their parent’s permission
The Bullets and Burgers gun range, located in Mohave County, allows boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 17 to shoot at the range as long as they are with their parents. While it is illegal for children to purchase guns, there are not many laws in the country concerning how young a child should be to use one. The state of Minnesota recently lowered the age of hunting to 10, but the state does limit any gun shooting classes to 11 and older.
Josh Sugarmann, who works for the Violence Policy Center, was quoted saying last year, “there is most certainly a recognition by manufacturers of guns, that a lot of people in the United States have reservations about giving guns to their children.” With the recent Arizona shooting, and what is surely a traumatized 9-year-old girl, serious questions surrounding the tragedy continue to be raised. When Marjorie Sanfilippo, a psychology professor at Eckerd College who has studied children and firearms, was asked her opinion on the appropriate age a child should be introduced to weapons, she thought about it for a moment before answering, “Well, we let don’t let them drive until they’re teenagers, even though they can be impulsive and make some bad decisions. If I had to choose though, I would probably go with 16. I believe that should be the earliest.”
By Theodore Borders