The 9-year-old and the Uzi: What were they thinking?

kidwithgunThere are times when words fail. The news that a nine-year-old child accidentally shot and killed 39-year-old Charles Vacca, an instructor at a shooting range in White Hills, Arizona, represents one of those times.

There are no words that adequately capture the tragedy of such an unnecessary loss of life and the trauma that will plague this young girl for the rest of her life. What words can describe the poor judgment of the parents and the instructor? With what words could we possibly address the surfeit of responsibility on the part of individuals, businesses, the gun industry, and government?

There’s only one relevant word I can find. And that word is “why?” Why was a child of nine allowed to fire a weapon at a shooting range? Why did the instructor believe that a child would have the strength to control a weapon capable of firing off six hundred rounds per minute when set on automatic mode? Why are shooting ranges in the majority of states allowed to adopt their own minimum-age policies? Why are there so few states with laws setting minimum-age requirements for rifle and shotgun possession? Why are military-style weapons readily available in the first place?

In truth I don’t believe there are any words that even begin to answer questions like those—those horrible after-the-fact questions.

Still, there’s one more question that begs to be asked. “Why would parents and the operators of a shooting range put into the hands of a child a powerful and deadly military-style weapon?”

Every answer to that question is ridiculous, absurd, or completely crazy. But here are a few.

  • Because the name Uzi sounds like a cool toy a kid might want to cuddle up with at night?
  • Because the child wanted to know what it feels like to be a soldier fighting in the Six-Day War, the Vietnam War, the Sri Lankan Civil War, or the Falkland Islands War?
  • Because the young girl heard about the adventures of the Mexican drug cartel and their preference for the Uzi and she imagined she might one day want to join them?
  • Because the parents got bored with the slow slog of observing wildlife in Red Rock Canyon and wanted a more memorable activity for their daughter?
  • Because the young girl’s mom and dad wanted to see if the money and time spent on ballet and karate had given their daughter the strength of an adult?
  • Because the child’s math teacher gave her a summer-vacation assignment to practice counting to six hundred in one minute?
  • Because the young girl was feeling the normal pull of peer pressure and had heard other nine-year-old Arizonans at the hotel pool bragging about firing Uzis since they were eight?
  • Because the parents just couldn’t wait another year, when the child would turn ten, for her to be able to try out weapons at a shooting range in her home state of New Jersey?

These are crazy answers, aren’t they? But isn’t it also crazy that federal law prohibits handgun ownership by any person under the age of eighteen—but there’s no federal minimum age for possession of rifles and shotguns? Isn’t it crazy, too, that in thirty states it’s legal for a child of any age to possess a rifle or a shotgun?

And isn’t it crazier still that we’re outraged when this kind of tragedy happens but then we shrug it off and do nothing until the next tragedy inevitably comes along?