Child Firing Uzi At Shooting Range Accidentally Kills Instructor

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By Steve Almasy and AnneClaire Stapleton

(CNN) -- A 9-year-old girl learning to fire a submachine gun accidentally killed her instructor at a shooting range when the weapon recoiled over her shoulder, according to Arizona authorities.

The instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, died at a hospital Monday night after he was shot in the head.

The Mohave County Sheriff's Office said the girl was with her parents. The three reside in New Jersey. The website of Bullets and Burgers, the shooting range where the accident happened, says children between the ages of 8 and 17 can shoot a weapon if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Police said the weapon was an Uzi, an Israeli-made submachine gun that some experts say is the wrong choice of firepower for instructing a child.

Representatives of the gun range declined CNN requests for comment on the incident Wednesday. But Sam Scarmardo, who operates Bullets and Burgers, told CNN affiliate KLAS on Tuesday they "really don't know what happened."

"Our guys are trained to basically hover over people when they're shooting," Scarmardo said. "If they're shooting right-handed, we have our right-hand behind them ready to push the weapon out of the way. And if they're left-handed, the same thing."

No charges to be filed

The investigation into the shooting has been completed and no charges were pending, according to the sheriff's office.

Authorities said the death was being handled as an industrial accident, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigating. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also was notified.

An autopsy on Vacca was completed but the cause and manner of death were pending, according to Colleen Pitre, a representative of the medical examiner's officer. She would not say how many times Vacca was shot.

It wasn't the first fatal accident involving a child and an Uzi. In 2008, an 8-year-old boy in Massachusetts accidentally shot himself with a micro Uzi during a gun show.

Experts question choice of weapon

Gun experts contacted by CNN on Wednesday said it was preferable to teach young children to shoot with single-shot firearms rather than submachine guns, but added that some Uzi submachine guns can be modified to control the powerful recoil. The supervision and experience of instructors is crucial.

"It's always the supervision," said Greg Danas, president of Massachusetts-based G&G Firearms. "But you also have gun enthusiasts running businesses where they place firearms in the hands of the uninformed, whether they're 9-year-old kids who are not capable or adults. It all stems from gun enthusiasts running businesses that require a level of professionalism and education. The unexpected with firearms is something that's only learned through years of being a trainer, not a gun enthusiast."

Danas questioned why the instructor in Arizona was standing immediately to the left of the Uzi, which would have recoiled in that direction.

"It's an awful shame," he said. "He shouldn't have been to the left side of the gun... But that child should not have been shooting anything other than a single-shot firearm."

Danas, whose daughters are 11 and 13, said his girls learned to shoot when they were 4 years old, with a single-shot, .22-caliber pistol.

Greg Block, who runs California-based Self-Defense Firearms Training, said not only was the Uzi the wrong gun to use -- "That's not a kid's gun" -- but that instructors should stand to the rear and to the right of the shooter.

"He was literally in the line of fire," Block said of the instructor. "He did pretty much everything wrong, and I don't like saying that because it cost the man his life."

Steven Howard, a Michigan-based gun expert who runs American Firearms & Munitions Consulting, said it was difficult to comment based on the limited information available about the Arizona shooting, but added that the clip on the submachine gun should not hold more than three rounds during instruction.

"Teaching people machine gun 101, even with adults, even with people going through military training, the first few times they shoot machine guns you don't have them shoot a full freaking clip," he said. "The thing begins to fire and it begins to jump and buck all over the place. Your first human instinct is for your hands to clamp down, and you clamp down on the trigger and if the thing has a 32-round magazine ... it starts spraying all over and people get killed."

But he said some submachine guns can be used to train children.

"It can be done under the right circumstances," Howard said. "There are some machine guns that I could have trained my 8-year-old on."

Video shows fatal shooting

In Arizona, cell phone video released by authorities Tuesday shows the moments before the fatal shots were fired, CNN affiliate KLAS reported.

In the video, Vacca and the girl are at an outdoor range. The wind blows a target in the distance. Vacca shows the child how to hold the gun and then helps her establish her grip and her stance. She fires one round and dirt flies above the target. Vacca adjusts the Uzi, places his right hand on her back and his left under her right arm.

She fires several rounds in rapid succession and the gun kicks to the left as she loses control. The video ends before the fatal head shot. In releasing the video, authorities did not identify who made it.

Vacca was married, well-liked and a veteran, KLAS said.

The range, which is about an hour's drive from Las Vegas, says on its Facebook page: "We separate ourselves from all other Las Vegas ranges with our unique 'Desert Storm' atmosphere and military style bunkers."

Child dies at gun show

In the Massachusetts incident, former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury was found not guilty in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter in the 2008 death of 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj, who was firing the micro Uzi when he accidentally shot himself in the head at a gun show Fleury helped organize. The boy died instantly.

Fleury also was acquitted of three counts of furnishing a machine gun to a minor.

Christopher's father, Charles Bizilj, was present at the time of the shooting and videotaped the entire incident. Parts of that tape were shown to the jury, which also heard emotional testimony from the father.

"I ran over to him. His eyes were open and I saw no reason for him to be on the ground," Bizilj told members of the Hampden County jury. "And I tried to talk to him and he didn't respond. I put my hand behind his head to try to pick him up and there was a large portion of his cranium missing. And I put my hand against the back of his head."

CNN's Amanda Watts and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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  • g

    What moronic parents to allow their children to handle weapons like these. I honestly cannot fathom the attraction and use of guns. I think these people deserve what they got.

  • John

    This is the kind of BS that leads to people like me having to move out of a state I have lived in all my life, because of the act of one stupid person that leads to more gun control. I lost my rights, live everyone else in CT because one ANIMAL a-hole decided to go AWOL. I am PRO gun, and PRO 2nd amendment, hell I am against the act that ban automatic firearms because there has only been one illegal shooting incident with a LEGAL automatic firearm in the US, which was done by a police officer who snapped and gunned down a bunch of drug dealers.

    With all of this said, what idiot would give a CHILD an automatic firearm to shoot. Not only did this stupid idiot give a CHILD an automatic firearm to shoot, he choose an Uzi, which is a light weight SMG that has a long delay between the trigger pull and the actual shot being fired. If anyone had any brains, they would have not given a full auto firearm to a child, and if for some unknown reason they needed to learn to shoot full auto at 9 years old, then they should have been given a heavier firearm with a long barrel that could have been held by the instructor.

    This is exactly why lawful tgun owners like myself who have gone over 10 years owning firearms with out any incidents, are now getting our “evil military style” guns taken away. The instructor was a decorated Iraq vet too, which just blown my mind. I am sick of both the anti-gun lobby as well as the NRA. Both sides are idiots, both sides refuse to compromise, and in the end the only ones that get screwed are the middle class lawful gun owners. The rich will always be able to get whatever they want, and the poor can’t afford to buy guns [or the ammo which has become extremely overpriced] legally. The only ones who get screwed are the people who always get screwed in our country: The middle class. It’s time for sensible gun control, gun control that gives back the rights that have been seized from lawful gun owners, but restricts idiots like these people from doing something stupid like giving a 9 year old girl (or an 8 year old boy as in the MA case) a freekin automatic SMG.

    If the middle class ran this country, things would be different; unfortunately we are nothing but talking points on some corrupt politicians cue card. It’s time this country bans lobbying and starts using some good old fashion common sense. I am so sick of the BS in this country.

  • John

    As a followup, I moved out of CT a state I love to NH. I started a business in NH, NOT CT because CT tried to gun grab instead of doing what they should have done which was prevent gun violence by solving the real problem : Illegal guns, and poverty. You will never be able to stop the crazies, and there a million and one ways to commit mass murder without firearms, ways I wont list here but any logical person could come up with; lucky logical people don’t commit mass murder. CT has lost my business, my tax dollars, and a strong supporter of a state I have called home almost all of my life. I understand the outcry against guns; its unfortunate that only idiots doing stupid things get highlighted in the News Media. Pro-Gun owners like myself need to take a hard look around us and decide at what point do we want to let extremists like the anti-gun lobby AND pro-gun lobby make stupid decisions that ultimately lead to this kind of nonsense. Just like everything else in life, republicans vs democrats, pro vs anti gun, Israel vs Palestine, etc BOTH sides have their extremest idiots that screw up life for regular people. Extremism is the problem, people who can’t compromise and HAVE to get their way. Our country [and this world] is being run by extremists who only care about their money and power.

  • Misty

    I feel bad for the instructor but a little child that small can’t handle the recoil of a full automatic uzi! He should have known better. It’s irresponsible things like this that adds fuel to the “anti-gun” peoples argument.