A shooting instructor is dead, the victim of a gun-range accident. A 9-year-old girl is surely traumatized. And plenty of people, including many gun enthusiasts, are asking: Why give a child a submachine gun to shoot?
The deadly incident occurred Monday morning at a gun range in Arizona that caters to Las Vegas tourists, many of whom drive an hour from the gambling center to fire high-powered weapons.
Charles Vacca was accidentally shot in the head as he instructed the 9-year-old girl how to fire an Uzi, an Israeli-made 9mm submachine gun. As she pulled the trigger, the gun jumped out of her left hand toward Vacca, who was standing beside her.
"To put an Uzi in the hands of a 9-year-old ... is extremely reckless, " CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes said.
Gun experts contacted by CNN on Wednesday said young children should be taught to shoot with single-shot firearms rather than submachine guns.
They also said that safe learning is connected to the ability and experience of the instructor.
"It's always the supervision," said Greg Danas, president of Massachusetts-based G&G Firearms. "But you also have gun enthusiasts running businesses where they place firearms in the hands of the uninformed, whether they're 9-year-old kids who are not capable or adults. It all stems from gun enthusiasts running businesses that require a level of professionalism and education. The unexpected with firearms is something that's only learned through years of being a trainer, not a gun enthusiast."
Representatives of the gun range declined CNN requests for comment on the incident. But Sam Scarmardo, who operates Bullets and Burgers, told CNN affiliate KLAS on Tuesday they "really don't know what happened."
"Our guys are trained to basically hover over people when they're shooting," Scarmardo said. "If they're shooting right-handed, we have our right-hand behind them ready to push the weapon out of the way. And if they're left-handed, the same thing."
Vacca had his right hand on the girl's back and his left hand under her right arm when he was shot.
Danas questioned why the instructor in Arizona was standing immediately to the left of the Uzi, which would have recoiled in that direction.
"It's an awful shame," he said. "He shouldn't have been to the left side of the gun... But that child should not have been shooting anything other than a single-shot firearm."
Danas, whose daughters are 11 and 13, said his girls learned to shoot when they were 4 years old, with a single-shot, .22-caliber pistol.
Fuentes, who was a firearms instructor while he was with the FBI, said students are taught to fire in three-round bursts.
It's not like in the movies where somebody shoots 30 rounds nonstop, he said. "You're going to lose control."
The wrong gun?
Greg Block, who runs California-based Self-Defense Firearms Training, said not only was the Uzi the wrong gun to use -- "That's not a kid's gun" -- but that instructors should stand to the rear and to the right of the shooter.
"He was literally in the line of fire," Block said of the instructor. "He did pretty much everything wrong, and I don't like saying that because it cost the man his life."
Steven Howard, a Michigan-based gun expert who runs American Firearms & Munitions Consulting, said it was difficult to comment based on the limited information available about the Arizona shooting, but added that the clip on the submachine gun should not hold more than three rounds during instruction.
"Teaching people machine gun 101, even with adults, even with people going through military training, the first few times they shoot machine guns you don't have them shoot a full freaking clip," he said. "The thing begins to fire and it begins to jump and buck all over the place. Your first human instinct is for your hands to clamp down, and you clamp down on the trigger and if the thing has a 32-round magazine ... it starts spraying all over and people get killed."
Some Uzi submachine guns can be modified to control the powerful recoil.
Howard said some submachine guns can be used to train children.
"It can be done under the right circumstances," Howard said. "There are some machine guns that I could have trained my 8-year-old on."
The website of Bullets and Burgers, the shooting range where the accident happened, says children between the ages of 8 and 17 can shoot a weapon if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
No charges to be filed