9-year-old Arizona shooting tragedy is reason to change gun laws
Americans have the right to bear arms, and children deserve the right not to
What began as a classic family vacation ended in tragedy, punctuated by the recoil of a submachine gun that ended one life and irrevocably altered another.
Last week, a 9-year-old from New Jersey, on vacation with her family, accidentally shot and killed Charles Vacca, who was instructing her in the use of an Uzi submachine gun. Vacca was an employee at Last Stop, a recreational shooting range in Arizona that participates in the Las Vegas area “Bullets and Burgers” tour.
Rereading those last sentences – the child with an Uzi, a shooting range designed as a tourist attraction, the bullets, burgers and trivialization of deadly weapons – the phrase “only in America” comes to mind.
Only in America: families tour the Grand Canyon and then let off some steam with grenade launchers and sniper rifles. Only in America: a little girl is handed a gun that fires 600 rounds per minute. Only in America: her parents film the moment their daughter loses control of the weapon and shoots a man in the head.
It was a freak accident, an anomalous tragedy, a horrific, “this has never happened before” mishap. It was an accident that mirrors a similar incident in 2008, when Christopher Bizilj, an 8-year-old from Connecticut, accidentally killed himself when he tried out an Uzi at a gun show in Massachusetts.
For children like Bizilj and the girl from New Jersey, even supervision and instruction proved insufficient. Powerful weapons like Uzis are difficult to control and dangerous to fire, especially for children who aren’t prepared or simply aren’t physically capable of firing them safely. This risk is apparent in the video of Vacca’s death, the gun in the young girl’s hands can be seen rising and jerking toward Vacca, as the child finds herself unable to hold the weapon straight.
Bizilj’s death swayed Connecticut lawmakers to pass more restrictive gun laws, prohibiting access to machineguns for anyone under 16. It was a sensible response to a senseless death and a decision that more states should consider.
Americans have the right to bear arms, the right to try out a variety of weapons, the right to treat guns as a source of fun and entertainment. While recreational gun ranges may not appeal to more pacifistic Americans, they nonetheless provide a safe environment and controlled conditions – or at least, they should.
If ranges aren’t going to institute rules limiting children’s access to high-powered weapons – the shooting range where Vacca worked has yet to do so – then it’s up to lawmakers to strike a less lethal balance between the Bills of Rights and the safety of our population.
Children are taught, repeatedly that “guns aren’t toys.” But when they are allowed to play with them at the shooting range, on vacation, they’re hearing a very different message. Now it’s time to eliminate these deadly mixed messages and replace them with laws limiting children’s access to machine guns – laws that reflect the barest minimum of gun control, but laws that could prevent the most preventable of tragedies.