The PJ Tatler

Is There a 'Debate' Now Over Handing 9-Year-Olds Fully Automatic Firearms?

The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a new “debate” over firearms, in the wake of a terrible fatal accident at a gun range this week.

The death of a shooting instructor at an Arizona gun range when a 9-year-old girl lost control of a powerful automatic weapon has raised the issue of age limits at such operations.

The girl, on vacation with her parents at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Ariz., accidentally shot and killed the instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, while firing an Uzi submachine gun Monday, officials said. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said the gun’s recoil sent the weapon over the girl’s head, its bullets striking Mr. Vacca, who stood next to her.

Mr. Vacca, who was shot in the head, was airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, where he died from his injuries Monday evening, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Video of the incident released by the sheriff’s office shows Mr. Vacca adjusting the girl’s stance and then saying, “All right, now go ahead and give me one shot,” apparently before the gun was set on fully automatic. With her back to the camera, the girl successfully fires a single round at a target.

“All right, full auto,” Mr. Vacca then says before the girl releases a series of shots, apparently losing control of the gun before the video ends.

The shooting touched off a debate on social media among gun-control advocates, parents and gun-rights supporters, with many questioning why the girl’s parents would let her fire such a powerful weapon.

I’m about as pro-Second Amendment as one can get, but this was irresponsible. The instructor evidently had the girl fire a single shot from the Uzi before telling her to go full auto. If that’s standard practice, then the practice needs to change.

I was an adult male when I joined the Air Force, and received training on the M-16 at full auto during basic training.

In that training, the instructors did not allow us to fire on full auto until we had fired several rounds on semi. I don’t recall the exact number or rounds we fired, it was probably around 10. We had to get used to the weapon’s weight and feel, and get accustomed to the recoil, and we had to get used to using the weapon to put lead on target downrange. Then we were instructed to fire on full auto, but only in three-round bursts. Anyone who fired more in a burst got the classic military training instructor hair dryer treatment.

Firing on full auto is a different experience from firing a single round on semi. Weapons on full auto can have a tendency to “climb,” or go up at the muzzle end the longer you hold the trigger down to fire. If the operator is not prepared for that, it can surprise the operator and a loss of control can occur.

The last thing you want is surprise, when you’re handling a fully automatic weapon. Or any firearm.

This firearm in this terrible case clearly climbed, and the girl was totally unprepared for it.

Can a 9-year-old safely fire a gun on full auto? Probably, with the proper instruction. Is it a good idea? I don’t think so. It would depend heavily on the child and their previous experience with firearms. A child who has never fired a gun before should not start, under any circumstances, with a fully automatic weapon.

When you introduce kids or anyone else to firearms, you have to drill them on safety first, safety last, safety always. If they’re not familiar with the firearm, then they need information on how they can expect the gun to behave. How to load it, how the safety works, how to tell if you have a round chambered or it’s clear, everything relevant to keeping things safe.

I don’t see a debate to be had here. It’s not a good idea to hand fully automatic firearms to kids. It’s a terrible failure to not prepare them for how the gun will behave.

The instructor failed and a fatal tragedy occurred. The girl has to live with what happened for the rest of her life. It all could have been avoided.