The purpose of this article is not to criticize the man that died in this extremely unfortunate event but to learn about it so as to try to avoid similar tragedies. I write this from the perspective of a firearms instructor and a father that taught his son to shoot at a very early age.
The wrong idea in the first place
The anti-gun groups are out for blood and it’s sad to see gun owners also attacking SSG Charles Vacca. Although some mistakes were made in this tragedy, the problem starts with the kind of establishment in the first place. “Burgers and Bullets” was intended as a fun gun range, kind of like a theme park with guns. That’s the problem right there. You can teach children safe gun handling, but that doesn’t mean gun ranges can be turned into theme parks. Shooting firearms is serious business, and when you try to make it a careless fun activity for all the family you have problems. A child should be VERY well instructed along a long process that will eventually allow him to handle a firearm. You start with airguns, then you instruct on the use of firearms, mostly rifles. After extensive instruction and dry fire practice only then you use some small caliber live ammunition. Handing over a 9mm sub-machinegun to an inexperienced 9 year old is complete madness and a recipe for disaster. You can’t have everything in life, and one of the things you can’t have is a Disneyland with guns. It’s as insane and as incompatible as a Disney hospital where kids operate on people for the very first time… and eat great burgers. You might as well go for a Biological warfare lab theme park.
Using the right gun
Shooters should start with proper instruction, dry fire and then live ammo shooting. Once you start with live ammo, you are better suited using a bolt action or single shot long arm, in a small bore caliber such as 22LR. Only after a good amount of practice should you move to handguns and big bore calibers. A full auto Uzi is probably the most dangerous weapon you could hand over to a child. Not because it’s particularly deadly, there are plenty of bigger calibers, but because of the size (smaller being more dangerous and harder to control) and the difficulty of handling full auto bursts, even for experts.
In this case, the folding stock seems to have disengaged and folded to the right as the girl fired the burst, losing control of the weapon.
Dealing with inexperienced shooters
An instructor has to be all over his student, even more so very young ones like this little girl. In this case the instructor should have stood to the right and not to the left, behind the 180º angle in front of the shooter, with his left hand over the girl’s right shoulder, his right hand ready to control the weapon if needed. New shooters make mistakes. It just happens. They move around, get distracted, move the muzzle of the gun all over the place and the risk of an accidental discharge is significant. Inexperienced shooters may even get scared and drop the gun after firing the first time. That happens a lot. Even experienced shooters may try to grab the gun as it falls or slips from their hands, accidentally discharging it. This is why you are taught to let the gun fall if it ever slips out of your hand during more advanced firearms training that involves movement and single handed shooting.
Not all Instructors are alike
Before trusting an instructor with your life, and the life of your loved ones, know who you’re dealing with. Not all instructors are alike so its important to learn about their reputation, talk with them and ultimately decide yourself it this is a person you can trust. I’ve sat there in class with my best poker face while a certified NRA firearms instructor explained to me how Glock pistols have hidden, internal hammers that strike the firing pin and that the first trigger pull of a Glock is in double action while the ones that follow are fired in lighter single action. I asked again because I couldn’t believe such incompetence, but didn’t bother to correct the instructor in front of the class when I was reassured such facts about Gaston Glock design. Not all instructors are good. You can be an Olympic medal winning shooter or a Navy SEAL operator and still lack the pedagogical skills to be a good firearms instructor.
Guns can be fun to shoot folks, but toys they are not and shooting firearms is serious business.