Arizona Uzi shooting that accidentally killed instructor 'just stupid'

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 11:15 p.m.

A video of an Arizona firearms instructor shot and killed by a 9-year-old girl who lost control of an Uzi submachine gun set off an impassioned debate on Wednesday over youngsters and guns, as many people wondered what sort of parents would let a child handle an Uzi.

“Everything I saw on that video was just stupid. That girl was not large enough or heavy enough to fire a firearm like that in the first place,” said Todd Edmiston, who owns A&S Indoor Pistol Range in Youngwood.

Authorities released the video from Last Stop outdoor shooting range in White Hills, Ariz., about 25 miles south of Las Vegas, which shows the slender girl from New York, who was vacationing with her parents, holding an Uzi in both hands at an outdoor firing range.

Instructor Charles Vacca, 39, standing over her, tells her to turn her left leg forward.

“All right, go ahead and give me one shot,” he tells the girl, whose back is to the camera. He cheers when she fires one round at the target.

“All right, full auto,” Vacca says.

When she squeezed the trigger, the recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head.

Vacca, an Army veteran, was airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital but died shortly afterward on Monday.

Investigators said they do not plan to seek charges; the girl's identity has not been disclosed.

The video, which does not show the instructor being hit, ends with the sound of a series of shots.

Sam Scarmardo, a former Lake Havasu City Council member who operates the shooting range, said that the girl's parents signed waivers saying they understood the rules of the range and were there video-recording their daughter when the accident happened.

“I have regret we let this child shoot, and I have regret that Charlie was killed in the incident,” Scarmardo said.

Scarmardo said his policy of allowing children 8 and older to fire guns under adult supervision and the watchful eye of an instructor is standard practice in the industry, but the range's policies are under review.

In Pennsylvania, state and federal laws restrict the sale of rifles and handguns to those 18 and older. Federal law requires juveniles to have written consent to fire a weapon. Nothing prohibits adults from teaching a child to shoot.

Edmiston, the Youngwood range owner, said he occasionally conducts special classes to teach Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts as young as 7 or 8 how to handle a .22-caliber weapon. Other than that, children must be 12 or older and accompanied by someone older than 21 before they can set foot in his shooting range.

Pennsylvania children 12 to 16 are eligible for junior hunting licenses, provided they complete a hunter/trapper education course.

Mark Boerio, a National Rifle Association-certified range master who operates an indoor shooting range at his Latrobe Army & Navy Store, said children must be at least 12 and accompanied by a parent at his range.

“And even then we're going to respect safety,” he said.

NRA Training Counselor Kim Stolfer of South Fayette said it was apparent that Vacca, the instructor in Arizona, allowed the child to lose control of the weapon.

“I've taught children as young as 5 years of age to shoot. But you have to match the equipment to the person, and I don't believe the instructor handled himself properly. Now, this young lady is going to have to deal with it her whole life,” Stolfer said.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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