Arizona shooting range instructor killed when gun safety holstered in favor of good time

Minors with Guns (1)

Francis Emelogu/The Cougar

Guns have a unique place in the heart of American culture. The Second Amendment is hailed as a symbol of freedom from oppression and a lasting testament to American dedication to individual rights. As much as we often enjoy guns and our right to possess them, they are undoubtedly dangerous tools in the wrong hands, criminal or not.

When asked to think of a dangerous situation involving guns, most of us likely imagine war, being mugged or attempted murder. However, weapons do not only need to be in the hands of a criminal for a situation to be dangerous.

At the end of August, a 9-year-old at The Last Stop shooting range in Arizona accidentally killed her instructor, Charles Vacca, with an Uzi. Her 39-year-old instructor was a veteran, well-trained and familiar with weapons, though that didn’t prevent the tragic accident from occurring the morning of Aug. 25.

The 9-year-old, who was on vacation with her family, was on a tour with a company called Bullets and Burgers that took the group to the shooting range to fire a variety of automatic weapons. The range allowed children as young as 8 years old to participate in the range activities, and there are no state regulations concerning the age limit for handling a weapon.

The young girl fired her weapon once in semi-automatic mode before switching to automatic with the instructor’s permission. In a flash, the girl lost control of the weapon’s massive recoil, injured her shoulder and the barrel jumped to her instructor’s head.

The tragic situation could have easily been avoided. Many people are heavily split on the issue of gun control, but simple gun safety could have prevented this situation and others like it from occurring.

Many children in America are taught gun safety at a very young age. Guns are a part of American culture, and firing a rifle or shotgun before the age of 10 is not uncommon. However, the difference between a semi-automatic, long-barreled weapon and a powerful, fully automatic Uzi is hard to put into words.

A somewhat similar accident occurred at a gun show in 2008, where an 8-year-old boy lost control of an Uzi. The recoil from his weapon ended up directing the barrel to his own head and killing him as well.

Simply put, 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds do not have the mass or muscles to handle the powerful recoil of an automatic Uzi, much less the experience. Many young children are responsibly taught to handle shotguns and rifles for the sake of gun education and safety; however, there is not a responsible method or reasonable purpose to hand a child an automatic weapon that they cannot even hold steadily.

Chemistry senior Marco Gutierrez said he believes that the young girl should never have been allowed by her parents or the range to handle the weapon.

“I don’t think the kid should have been authorized to use that gun in the first place, being that it was her first time ever shooting a gun,” Gutierrez said. “If anything, they should have let her use the least powerful gun they had, like a single shot .22 rifle or pistol. I think personally if I had a 9-year-old child, I wouldn’t want them handling a gun.”

When asked what Gutierrez would do to prevent such accidents from occurring again, he said that age restrictions would be helpful.

“I would put an age limit at gun ranges or make first time shooters and kids, and make them use easy handling weapons,” Gutierrez said. “Nothing more, unless they are over a certain age or have a required safety course before even shooting a gun.”

A range near The Last Stop has a similar policy. Range 702 has a 4-foot height requirement for children, and also requires that children master easier to handle, safer weapons like a semi-automatic .22 rifle.

Vacca was not certified as a firearms trainer by the NRA, nor is there a requirement in Arizona for gun range instructors to be certified. It’s hard to say whether the military veteran would have been more prepared if he had been certified, but it is also hard to see why this situation was allowed to occur.

Most Americans understand that guns can be a source of sport, safety and food, but also that they require a great amount of respect, care and safety as well. Handing an Uzi to a young girl disregards all of that for the sake of a good time.

Arizona needs to take a long, hard look at the laws that allowed such reckless decisions to be made. A little common sense should have prevented a little girl from being scarred and a man from losing his life, but sometimes safety doesn’t always come first.

Opinion columnist Shane Brandt is a petroleum engineering senior and may be reached at [email protected]


  • You mention one key point that no one really wants to say here.

    The media keeps calling Vasca an ‘instructor’, but there is no evidence that he was anything more than counter-help who happened to be working the range that day.

    • He was a Staff Sgt in the US Army, hes quite qualified to do weapons instruction. Even qualified people get complacent.

      • There are many people, even at rank of Staff Sgt, that aren’t properly qualified with weapons. That also includes many Police officers. Marksmanship is a skill that is quite lacking in the military and police. The same goes with gun safety.

  • This has very little to do with guns, and more to do with a lack of common sense. They could have handed her a chainsaw, which currently has no legal restrictions and it could have ended just as tragically. The guns I use to teach children have low recoil and long barrels(reducing the chance of it pointing towards a person instead of downrange). I never put more than one bullet in the magazine of a semi auto until the child is old/mature enough to properly control the trigger. It would have been much safer if the girl was given an M16, since someone could at least have grabbed the handguard of the M-16 if it was drifting away from the target. With the Uzi’s short barrel, and medium recoil harder to control while full auto without using a buttstock, it was a terrible idea.

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