Firearms are dangerous machines, and it is unfortunate that for many it takes a tragic incident to remind us of that. In Arizona recently, a girl of only 9 years accidentally shot a firearms instructor in the head with a gun she should not have been handling. The young lady and her family are from New Jersey and wanted to visit a firing range to experience our favorite pastime. The instructor, Charles Vacca, handed a Mini-Uzi to the child to fire and was killed when she failed to maintain control over the weapon. The recoil caused the gun rise and a bullet struck Mr. Vacca in the head and he was killed despite being airlifted to a local hospital.
Steve asked me to write a brief editorial on this incident and express my thoughts as a machine gun enthusiast in order to reaffirm how important it is to respect the danger poorly handled firearms present. In fact, in 2008 an 8 year old boy was shooting a Micro-Uzi and shot himself in the head.
I have taken dozens of people out to shoot machine guns for the first time and I have developed a sort of system to try and make the experience as safe as possible:
- Gauge the person’s size, age, and experience with firearms to choose the right gun.
- Stand directly behind the person shooting.
- Be prepared to grab the firearm in the event of excessive muzzle climb.
In my opinion, the girl should not have been given a short firearm like a Mini Uzi. The cyclic rates of the Minis and Micros are very high, and muzzle climb is often difficult to control for advanced shooters. I have seen grown men shoot the hangers at indoor ranges due to a complete lack of preparedness or anticipation of recoil and muzzle climb. It is for this reason that I usually start people out with a full size Uzi because of its slow cyclic rate and low recoil. The video below is of me instructing and supervising some colleagues at a local range:
The people in the video were told before shooting to lean forward with weight on their front foot, and before they shot the Uzi they fired handguns and other pistol caliber carbines. That is, in my opinion, the safe way to expose someone to full auto.
The 9 year old girl was simply given the gun (in my opinion, the wrong gun) and the instructor backed off:
Why Mr. Vacca is no longer with us is painfully apparent: The girl was given a gun she shouldn’t have been shooting and the instructor failed to properly control the situation. Admittedly I have let younger people shoot machine guns, but I always have a hand on the firearm and one on the shooter’s back to make sure that the firearm does not place rounds anywhere but the target area.
It is too often that people hand the wrong firearms to people with little to no experience. This is, unfortunately, common. In 2013 a woman shot herself in the head with a Smith and Wesson 500 that she should not have been shooting. It is neither smart nor funny to knowingly hand a firearm that is too powerful to a shooter that you know cannot handle it. I would no more hand a Mini-Uzi to a child than I would give a 16 year old new driver a 600 horsepower first car.
In short, we need all remember to respect the danger firearms present in any given situation. This event is a terrible reminder that marksmanship can go from safe to dangerous with the wrong equipment and negligence.