Matt Vespa

I’m sure you’ve heard of the tragic story coming out of Arizona of a nine year-old girl who accidentally killed her range instructor, Charles Vacca, while firing an Uzi submachine gun. The girl couldn’t control the firearms’ recoil and hit Vacca with a bullet to the head. Vacca was not known to have had any accidents as a rangemaster, but there seems to have been a severe lapse in judgment, which had fatal consequences (via NBC News):

Sam Scarmardo, the manager for the Last Stop's shooting range, told NBC News that "the established practice at most shooting ranges is 8 years old and up with parental supervision."

He said Vacca was a "great guy, with a great sense of humor" and called him "very conscientious and very professional."

Scarmardo said that the range has never had a similar incident in over a decade of being open — "not even a scratch."

"I just ask everybody to pray for Charlie, and pray for the client, she’s going to have a hard time," said Scarmardo.

Ronald Scott, a Phoenix-based firearms safety expert, said most instructors usually have their hands on guns when children are firing high-powered weapons. "You can't give a 9-year-old an Uzi and expect her to control it," Scott told the Associated Press.

From the video, you hear Vacca instructing this girl on how to fire the Uzi. After firing her first shot, he says, “alright, full auto” right before a stray bullet kills him. [Warning: Content may be disturbing]

I’m an avid shooter. I love going to the range. Seeing kids who are around this girl’s age learning how to shoot isn’t aberrant or outside the mainstream. I’ve seen many fathers take their sons, daughters, and–at times–their wives to the range to learn how to shoot and learn basic safety. But, here’s the difference. They aren’t using automatic weapons. They’re using semi-automatic rifles or handgun with .22LR ammunition. It’s a brand of ammunition for firearms that's well suited for first-time shooters. It has relatively low recoil, if any, making it the optimal choice for those who just want to get a feeling for the weapon system at their first outing. Starting out with an Uzi probably isn't the best choice for a first-time shooter let alone a child. 

National Review’s Charles Cooke, another shooter, also commented this tragic incident. Besides reiterating that young shooters should use .22-caliber ammunition, he said [emphasis mine]:

As a general rule, smaller people — especially children — are restricted to smaller weapons that are commensurate with their size. At my range, kids who are being taught to shoot are not only limited to .22LR ammunition but also to long guns that they can get their shoulder behind. That way, if the gun pushes back, it hits something solid. This may cause bruising, sure. But it’s unlikely to be dropped or to fly upwards — or, heaven forbid, to kill somebody. When American children used to go to school with a rifle slung over their back, it was almost certainly a low-powered .22. There weren’t many Tommy Guns in American classrooms.

An Uzi, on the other hand, seems to be the worst of both worlds – especially when it is chambered in a larger caliber. Because their recoil tends to push the weapon upwards, handguns are inherently more difficult for young people to control. This is especially so when they keep firing upon a single trigger pull. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a gun less suited to a small girl.
[I]t does suggest gross negligence on the behalf of the range, the instructor, and the parents. I’m all for teaching children about firearms at a young age. But there is a good way to do this and a bad way to do this. We shouldn’t be giving nine-year-old girls automatic weapons.

I couldn't agree more.

This isn’t a case about lax gun laws, or the need for more gun control; but I’m sure the anti-gun crowd will find some way to exploit this incident to further their agenda. Right now, our thoughts and prayers should be with Mr. Vacca, this girl, and their families. 

Matt Vespa

Matt Vespa is the Associate Editor at He previously worked for and was the recipient of Americans for Prosperity Foundation's 2013 Andrew Breitbart Award for Excellence in Online Activism and Investigative Reporting.