Girl Shoots Instructor, Raises Questions About Children and Gun Safety

Dana Hinders

On Monday, a nine-year-old girl being taught how to use an Uzi sub-machine gun at the Bullets and Burgers shooting range lost control of the weapon and accidentally killed her instructor. When the girl pulled the trigger on full auto, the recoil caused her to lose control of the gun.

The instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, was shot in the head. Vacca was flown to the University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Vacca was a longtime military veteran who had been working at Bullets and Burgers for approximately two years. The girl's parents were nearby recording the lesson.

Bullets and Burgers is one of the top-rated tourist attractions in the Las Vegas area. The establishment is located at the Arizona Last Stop camping and restaurant outpost near the Nevada border. It allows customers to shoot a range of weapons, including fully automatic machine guns and.50-caliber sniper rifles. Its website boasts that Bullets and Burgers has the actual firearms from The Terminator and Rambo II.

Although this tragic accident is certainly shocking, it's not the first time a child has died while playing with such a powerful weapon. In 2008, eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj accidentally killed himself while shooting a 9mm Micro Uzi, a submachine gun that fires 20 rounds a second. The boy was with his father at a Massachusetts gun expo. A 15-year-old who was in charge of distributing weapons for guests to shoot later testified that he told the boy's father twice that the child should have a less powerful weapon.

Many are asking how children are being allowed to handle automatic weapons, but it is perfectly legal in many states for children of any age to fire guns at a shooting range as long as an adult or an instructor is present. Sam Scarmardo, the gun range operator at Bullets and Burgers, says his establishment regularly instructs children as young as five on.22 rifles and that children ages eight and up are allowed to shoot firearms with parental supervision.

In fact, many parts of the United States have surprisingly lax laws regarding children and guns. The Washington Post reports that there are 30 states in which a child is legally allowed to own a rifle or shotgun. Federal law prohibits the ownership of handguns by people under age 18, but makes exceptions if the purchase is related to farming, hunting, target practice, or employment.

At this time, no charges are being filed in the Bullets and Burgers incident and the girl's name is not being released to protect her privacy.

[Photo courtesy of Uri Tours via Flickr.]