Amy Davidson, in the New Yorker, quarrels with the characterization by the local sheriff of the accidental shooting death of instructor Charles Vacca by a 9-year-old girl firing an Uzi as “an industrial accident.”
The Arizona Last Stop, where a nine-year-old girl accidentally shot her instructor with an Uzi last Monday, has already reopened. It was â€œbooked pretty solidâ€ for the Labor Day weekend, Sam Scarmardo, the owner, told Reuters. The sheriff of Mohave County described a video of the shootingâ€”recorded by the girlâ€™s parents, who were tourists from New Jerseyâ€”as â€œgrisly,â€ and has filed his report. He found that there is no cause for any criminal charges, not against whoever put together the rangeâ€™s Bullets and Burgers Adventure, designed to put automatic military weapons in the hands of children as young as eight, or against anyone else. Instead, the sheriff referred the case to the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health, because, he said, it was â€œbeing viewed as an industrial accident.â€
â€œAn industrial accidentâ€: that phrase raises the question of what industry we are talking about. …
There are many businesses that make up the gun industry, including the buying and selling of political influence. In Arizona and many other states, the realm of firearms is poorly regulated, from gun stores and fairs to tourist traps like Last Stop. As the Arizona Republic wrote, â€œArizona statutes do address firing ranges, but the laws primarily deal with noise levels. No laws govern any training protocols for firearms instructors, safety guidelines or age restrictions. But even if there were, there is no regulatory authority to enforce them.â€ A former Last Stop employee described the range, to the Republic, as a â€œshake and bakeâ€ operation, but, for what itâ€™s worth, its enforcement record was clean. Setting a minimum age of eight to use a gun on a range has been described, since Vaccaâ€™s death, as something of an industry standard in many states. There is still an overhanging injunction that workplaces be generally safe, and maybe the Arizona authorities can do something with that, but there is not much cause for optimism.
This shouldnâ€™t be surprising; it is not accidental. The same political forces that gather around gun rights are those railing against government in any form, even the kind that involves keeping children and their gun instructors, or other teachers, safe. We are left not only with lax gun laws but shake-and-bake shooting ranges. This is part of the explanation for why talking to the gun lobby about â€œcommon-sense regulationsâ€ never seems to go well. They are drawing on, and stoking, a view that presumes the foolishness of regulations. It is sad and telling that the only department left to look into Vaccaâ€™s death is the state equivalent of the Occupational Safety and Health Administrationâ€”regularly derided by Republicansâ€”and that itâ€™s unlikely to be able to do much at all.
A possible question for a 2016 Republican Party debate is whether the candidates think that nine-year-olds should ever be permitted to fire automatic weapons.
But an industrial accident, i.e. an accident which occurred as the result of improper handling of a tool, was precisely what happened.
The 9-year-old girl was clearly too small, too weak and uncoordinated, and insufficiently instructed in the safe handling and management of that weapon in full-automatic fire. She fired too long a burst and lost control of the weapon, which climbed as the result of recoil as it proceeded to continue to fire causing the muzzle to move beyond her intended target, and finally move upward to the left, winding up pointed at one moment as it continued to discharge at the unfortunate instructor’s head.
Was it unwise to put that Uzi into the hands of this 9-year-old girl? Clearly, it was. Yet, I feel perfectly sure that Mr. Vacca could have put that Uzi into the hands of entire school classes full of 9-year-olds without any such accident occurring. Most children would have kept their heads and never lost control of the Uzi. If warned in advance of the hazards of firing too long a burst, if given a magazine for full-auto fire with a more limited number of rounds, if the child were taller or if the instructor stayed lower or stood further behind the child, if the instructor were more alert, Mr. Vacca’s tragic death could easily have been averted.
All over America and the world, adults, from time to time, in the natural course of life, expose children to the excitement and interest of using dangerous tools, machinery (and sometimes weapons) all of which are potentially lethal. Parents teach children how to drive a car, a tractor, a lawn mower, or an ATV. Adults show children how to use a power saw, a lathe, or other machine tools. Parents take children to the shooting range and allow them to handle and fire guns. That is precisely the way that children grow up acquainted with tools, weapons, and machinery and learn to use them safely.
Amy Davidson’s philosophic approach to a tragic accident of this kind is to demand new federal laws and regulations based on the prejudices and emotional responses of people like herself, bien pensants socially and geographically remote from the kind of people who like to play with guns, and who actually in reality possess no expertise concerning guns or firearm safety themselves whatsoever.
From the liberal point of view, the combination of the administrative state and the pure intrinsic wisdom of the well-educated elite is effectively omnipotent. Just surrender more liberty and money to them, let them pass some more laws and create another federal agency, and they can successfully regulate happenstance, misfortune, and human incompetence and stupidity out of existence.
Obviously, there are a lot of us who disagree.
Instructor Vacca’s death was a tragic accident, but Mr. Vacca himself had as good a chance as anyone could possibly have had of preventing it. He simply failed to foresee one extreme possibility. I expect that shooting instructors nationally are going to be a lot more careful about placing full-auto weapons in the hands of children, and are going to take extra precautions and be more alert when they do.
Davidson obviously falsely depicts shooting ranges as part of an imaginarily lucrative and conspiratorial firearms industry so rich that it can buy political immunity from regulation. Gun control has actually been successfully resisted almost entirely by the purely grass-roots efforts of individual sportsmen, hobbyists, and collectors. The firearms “industry” contributes modestly to the NRA and many of its member corporations sell out to government quite readily.
Shooting ranges are all well aware that they live in a litigious country with a predatory trial bar eager to go after them. They do not need political prodding to implement safety rules and protocols. Every shooting range has already adopted all of them that they could think of as necessary.
The accidental death of Mr. Vacca merely proves that human foresight is limited and that even experts –Mr. Vacca was undoubtedly an expert– make mistakes.
The decision about when a particular child should be permitted to shoot a gun, or drive a tractor, or even I would say, when a child should be permitted to take a drink, ought really to be left up to the child’s parents. We do not need state or national policies and the last people who should be permitted to regulate access to, and usage and possession of guns or other machinery or tools should be the kind of people who write in the New Yorker and who are completely innocent of personal acquaintance and familiarity with the things they wish to regulate.