Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
Wed, Sept. 18

Column: Gun range accident should not lead to new gun law

It's absolutely devastating to watch the video showing the final seconds before firearms instructor Charles Vacca was shot by his 9-year-old student.

She's holding an Uzi.

He adjusts her grip, and her stance, and lets her squeeze off a single shot, which kicks up a dust plume at the end of the range. The whole time, he's being enthusiastic, helpful - exactly the kind of instructor you'd want to introduce you to something you want to learn.

Then he switches the firearm to full auto. There's a smattering of fire before the clip ends - and you can see the muzzle tracking left, toward Vacca.

I'm sure you had the same reaction that I did when I first saw this story: "What the [insert expletive]?" And the questions flow from there.

A 9-year-old with an Uzi? What were they thinking? What were her parents thinking?

Was anybody thinking?

Isn't this against the rules?

Are there rules?

Should there be a law?

Some argue yes, and Connecticut actually has a law that says anyone younger than 16 can't handle an automatic weapon at a gun range. There are already restrictions on voting and driving for non-adults. Shouldn't lethal, hard-to-handle firearms be on that list?

At the Arizona Last Stop shooting range, the minimum age was 8, according to news reports. Those reports also referenced the Gun Store in Las Vegas, which has no age restrictions but uses "strength and weight as a metric."

As tempting as it is to talk legislation in the wake of this tragic accident, that's the wrong approach. The legislative process is messy. Proposed gun restrictions inspire vehemently overheated rhetoric, to the point that any rational discussion gets buried under an avalanche of vitriol.

Furthermore, why legislate a one-size-fits-all dictate based on an exceedingly rare accident?

If there was ever a textbook case for self-regulation, this is it. Responsible ranges will take this incident to heart. In fact, the Gun Store reportedly is already doing this right: Instructors are trained to hold the firearm for children who can't handle an automatic weapon, and the kids just pull the trigger.

Of course, the key word is "responsible," but these outfits will do the right thing, or continue to do the right thing if they're already on top of this risk.

Why the confidence? It's the simple truth of a business that wants to stay in business: They want insurance they can afford, they want people to talk about all the fun they had at the range, and they don't want injuries or deaths among their customers or staff.

To Vacca's loved ones, and to the 9-year-old girl and her family, I wish you all the peace and healing in the world.

For the rest of us - let's be a little more deliberative in our shooting, and in our lives in general. Measure twice, cut once; an ounce of prevention; and never forget the fabled Murphy's Law, the constant adage that states, "If something can go wrong, it will."

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