Thursday, August 28, 2014

It should be fun!

"The tragedy illustrates how you never know what could happen and we really do need to use common sense when thinking about when a child can have access to a weapon like that," stated Michael McLively of the California based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

On Aug 25 2014, what was supposed to be fun trip to a gun range in Arizona for a New Jersey couple and their daughter, became something very tragic.  Charles Vacca, 39, a gun instructor at the Bullets and Burgers gun range in White Hills AZ died after his 9 year old student lost control of an Uzi and shot him in the head. The gun range is located at the Last Stop camping and restaurant outpost near the Nevada line and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Las Vegas area.

They offer a variety of packages that include your choice of guns to fire as well as zip-lines, a monster truck, a sniper experience as well as several 50 caliber guns and machine guns on full automatic. Their shooting packages start at $199 and range up to $1,000 as well as offering to pick-up and drop off customers at Las Vegas hotels.

The young girl's parents were filming her shooting with her instructor, Vacca, so there is little doubt as to what had happened.  The edited clip of the shooting has been released to the media and begins by showing Vacca instructing the girl to always hold the gun with two hands.  He is standing directly to the left of the girl and he has her adjust her stance.

He then instructs her to fire one shot at the target, which she does.  After she successfully fires the one shot, Vacca is heard telling the girl that it is ok to go fully auto and fire.  It is at that point that the viewer can see that she loses her grip on the gun with her left hand and is still holding it with her right.  The Uzi swings to her left and Vacca is hit by a bullet to the head.

Vacca was flown to the University Medical Center suffering from several gunshots to the head but died later that evening.  He was a veteran of the army and a devoted father who lived in Lake Havasu City Arizona.  He had worked at Bullets and Burgers for a little over a year and was still serving the US while in the reserves.  It has been reported that he had experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The operator of Bullets and Burgers, Sam Scarnardo, also has operated Sam's Shooter's Emporium in Lake Havasu City AZ for over 14 years and states that they have never had an incident like this before.  He added that they will be reviewing their policies and procedures while the federal investigation continues.  Scarnardo stated that his ranges operate and abide by the standards set by the National Association of Shooting Ranges.  The 9 year old will not be charged in connection with the shooting as it is being handled as an industrial accident.

There are those who have viewed the tape of the instruction and have concluded at this early point that Vacca was more at fault.  Scarnardo stated that their instructors are trained to basically hover over people when they are shooting and if the shooter is right-handed, the instructor has their right hand behind them, ready to push the weapon away if control is lost.  He added that they do the same for a left-handed shooter but with their left hand.

Vacca can be seen in the video with his right hand on the girl's back while his left hand is under her right arm when he was shot.  He also is standing to her left, which many question.  It would seem that he was standing directly in the path of the gun if it were to recoil and end up being wildly shot.  I question how familiar this girl was with firing any guns since I had the impression from the video that she did not have much, if any experience at all.  She also seemed tentative to me, as if she was doing this more on a "dare" than because she was an avid shooter who wanted to experience an Uzi.

While it is allowed by law for a child as young as 8 to be allowed on a shooting range with adult supervision, the debate being raised again is whether children that young should be allowed to fire guns such as that.  I mention again because the topics had been raised in 2008 when Christopher Bizilj, 8, died after accidentally shooting himself with a micro Uzi in Massachusetts.  Christopher, his father Charles and brother Colin, 11, attended a machine gun and firearms expo that was held at the Westfield Sportsman's Club in Westfield MA

Edward Fleury, Chief of Police in Pelham MA had created a small business in firearms instruction and had been sponsoring the show since 2001.  It was advertised as having no age restriction and attendees would have the chance to fire automatic weapons without having a license to do so.  Fleury was licensed as an instructor for automatic weapons but he did not have the guns,  Instead he asked two men from Connecticut to bring the guns and ammunition to the expo and they were in charge of handling them.

When it was Colin and Christopher's turn to shoot, the line instructor was a son of one of the men who had brought the guns.  He was familiar with the guns but was not certified as an instructor.  The Uzi that Charles had fired developed a problem when Colin had it and it would only fire as a single shot.

Michael Spano, states that he told Charles that since the Uzi was malfunctioning, the only other choice was a micro Uzi but he did not feel that it was a gun that the boys should be firing.  He described it as shooting fast and kicking hard.

Charles replied that he wanted both of his sons to experience firing a machine gun on full auto and he wanted them to fire it.  Colin did fire the micro Uzi, which is a very small Uzi used for shooting in tight quarters and uses the same 9 mm ammunition as the larger one.

It was then Christopher's turn to fire the machine gun and Spano reloaded it and showed him how to use it.  The gun jammed after the first burst when Christopher used it and Spano cleared it and handed it back to him.  When he fired again, the recoil forced the barrel upwards and the butt slipped off of his chest.

The gun was still firing as it spun on his trigger finger and pointed towards his head.  Christopher was hit by a bullet to the head and died almost instantly.  Charles had been filming both of his sons when they fired the machine guns and the fatal shot was caught on film.  He died just six weeks before his 9th birthday.

In the aftermath of Christopher's death, a grand jury handed down charges.  Fleury faced four charges of furnishing a machine gun to a person under 18 and one count of involuntary manslaughter.  The two men who furnished to machine guns for the expo both faced involuntary manslaughter charges and the Westfield Sportsman's Club faced a charge of involuntary manslaughter and furnishing machine guns.  Charles was not charged in the death of his son, the grand jury felt that he had suffered enough after watching the video of his son's death.

In March 2010, the Sportsman's Club told the court they would not contest the charges and paid the maximum fine of $1,000 for the manslaughter charge and donated $10,000 to two children's charities in Christopher's name for the furnishing charges.  They also announced that they were banning automatic weapons from their grounds.  The two men who had furnished the guns for the expo had the charges against them dropped while they were still awaiting trial.

On Jan 4 2011, 53 year old Fleury was put to trial and faced 50 years if convicted of the charges.  His defense stated that he did not know that the event he had sponsored was not legal because he had done so for many years and had notified the local police of it beforehand each year.

Off duty police attended the event and as for the furnishing charges, participants signed waivers, instructors were there and the guns were not lying around for children to just pick up.  His lawyer cited a temporary holding law that allows people who are not licensed to fire a gun with an instructor there.  In the end, he was also found not guilty of all the charges and the prosecution decided that since they had essentially the same case against the other two charged, they would not pursue a losing case.

The debate has been revived as to many factors involving this case.  I personally am not against the proper use of guns in the US.  We grew up in our family using guns after we had properly learned how to use them.  The question that many have is why a parent would want their young child to fire a weapon with that much power.  There are some who have stated that a child that young is generally not strong enough to handle a machine gun such as that on full automatic.  In my opinion, from what I saw on the video clip, I don't think that she was capable of handling it on full auto, before she even pulled the trigger.

Several have stated that there are many children who could handle the power of it but only on a single shot mode.  I am pretty sure that is why we used smaller caliber rifles and handguns when we were young and that is definitely why manufacturers sell kids sized guns and hunting bows as well as products that are aimed towards women.  It is not that we are incapable of doing everything, it just is that most need to be able to become competent at handling something not as powerful before they can make the step up to a more powerful weapon.  Heck, they even make smaller sized motorbikes and ATV's for children just because they are smaller........ not because they are incapable of using them.

I am not sure went through the minds these parents when they thought that shooting a fully automatic machine gun at such a young age was a great idea.  It is not as though they didn't have several more years to grow up in and would be better able to handle the gun.  There are definitely times in a parent's life when they have to be the parent and make the adult decisions.......... even if these children had begged to have the chance to fire a machine gun on full auto, a parent can always say no.  Just because someone has offered the chance to do something legally, that does not mean that you as a parent are obligated to say yes.


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