Charles Vacca, 39, was accidentally shot and killed Monday, August 25, 2014 while training a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an Uzi. The accident occurred at the Last Stop Shooting Range in White Hills, Arizona, where Vacca was instructing her how to use the weapon when the accident occurred. The girl pulled the trigger of the automatic machine pistol, and the recoil sent the gun over her head and Vacca was shot in the head.
While no charges have been filed, the shooting raises serious questions about gun safety and gun training practices. Two gun experts have stated that what types of firearms a child can handle depend on the strength and experience of the child, but many have questioned whether such a young child could possibly have the experience and strength to handle such a powerful, fully automatic weapon.
Some gun experts have stated that letting children shoot automatic weapons can be safe, as long as a properly trained adult is helping them hold the weapon. In this case, Vacca was helping by placing his left hand under the weapon, but automatic weapons tend to recoil upward—Vacca should have been supporting the top of the weapon, keeping it pointed downrange and preventing the upward recoil.
There are some common sense gun safety practices that all parents should consider when looking at firearms being in the presence of children. Children often do not understand the seriousness of the weapon, so care must be taken to educate them about the dangers of firearms, and they must be closely supervised.
The opinion of many firearms instructors is that automatic weapons should really be left only in the hands of adults, since the weapons can recoil unpredictably and surprise even trained firearms specialists.
It is important to make sure children understand gun use in real life as opposed to gun use on television. Firearms are often handled quite carelessly in movies and on television, and children see TV and movie characters shot and “killed” multiple times over, with the same actor then reappearing in another movie. It is important to stress that in real life, when someone is killed with a firearm, they don’t come back in another show.
Children should be taught to never handle a firearm unless they are under the strict guidance of an adult, preferably a trained firearms instructor. While Vacca’s case shows tragically that even a trained firearms instructor can be injured or killed while educating students, the track record for most shooting ranges is quite good for gun safety. The owner of Last Stop Shooting Range cited this accident as the first he has seen in his 15-year career of operating shooting ranges.
Children should be carefully supervised, and firearms should not be put into the hands of a child that lacks the strength or experience to handle that particular firearm. While we do not know how much experience the young girl had with firearms prior to shooting the Uzi, it is clear that she was taken aback by the recoil of the weapon, and will likely be haunted by the tragedy for the rest of her life.