Editorial: Stupidity leads to fatal accident

The accidental shooting death of a gun-range instructor in Arizona has stupidity written all over it. What makes the incident even more senseless is just how easily this entire tragedy could have been avoided, had the adults in the story used just a little common sense.

Instead, we have family and friends mourning the death of Charles Vacca ... and a 9-year-old girl having to deal emotionally and psychologically for the rest of her life that, accident or not, she fired a gun that killed a man.

Locally, the incident calls up the memory of a very similar case that happened here in western Mass., just six years ago. In that case, an 8-year-old boy was killed when an automatic weapon he was firing — an Israeli-made 9-mm Micro-Uzi — while his father supervised him spun back and killed Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Conn.

In the Arizona case, events began when a New Jersey family on vacation stopped off at the “World Famous Arizona Last Stop” in White Hills. It’s a roadside tourist stop where besides postcards, trinkets, food and cold drinks, gas, the business has a rather bizarre attraction — a shooting range in which visitors who are at least 8 years old can fire machine guns.

The business offers a wide range of weapons to choose from, and in this case, the young girl was handed a Micro-Uzi, a scaled down version of the military weapon first used by Israeli forces in the 1950s. The smaller guns are lighter and fire faster — 1,200 rounds a minute — than the military weapon, which makes them harder to control.

We don’t know whether getting a chance to fire the Uzi was the girl’s idea or whether she was urged to do so by her parents. We also don’t know if any of the adults involved gave serious thought to the question whether handing a short-barrelled submachine gun, designed for very rapid fire — with a resulting strong, sudden recoil, wasn’t a good idea.

The answer in this case was, tragically, “no.”

When she pulled the trigger, the recoil was too much for the young girl to handle, and she lost control. The weapon spun back out of her grip, the barrel pivoted to the left rear, and the instructor was shot in the face.

It was a terrible accident that could have been prevented — and predicted, given the Bizilj case.

Just because handing weapons to children is legal doesn’t mean it is smart or safe. Certainly the people running the shooting range should have been fully aware of how these souped-up pistols act and whether children can be expected to grip them tightly enough to control them.

Our nation has all kinds of laws and regulations prohibiting children from activities that are appropriate for adults, ranging from driving automobiles to working in hazardous environments.

We believe one of those activities should be using dangerous weapons.

“These are weapons made for war, we give them to highly trained soldiers,” Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said after the accident.

“I can’t think of situation we would give a child an Uzi or why that would be a responsible thing.”

We agree.

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