Child gun use plain nutty

Published 1:39 pm Thursday, September 4, 2014

The news made many Americans do a double-take. Wait a minute: this news story says a 9-year-old girl accidentally killed her gun instructor while he was teaching her to use…an Uzi? An UZI?!

One of those Israeli-designed compact sub automatic machine guns? That gun that can fire 600 rounds per minute? It just had to be a bad joke.

But it wasn’t a joke. It was a tragedy — and a sign of the times.

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“All right, full-range auto,” the AP reports instructor Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old Army veteran, told an unnamed girl during a session on how to use an Uzi. The gun’s kickback, apparently surprising the little girl, then shot Vacca through the head. And so it goes: two families now devastated, and a young girl now destined for therapy sessions for years.

What happened next (sigh) fit the usual pattern.

The media ran reaction stories (the family of the victim reached out to the girl and said they felt sorry for her… outraged gun control advocates… some gun rights folks sticking to their guns on gun regulation… the owner of the shooting range expressing regret). A 2008 story surfaced about 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj, of Connecticut who shot himself dead in the head while trying an Uzi at a gun show with his parents’ permission.

The NRA responded with an NRA Women tweet offering seven ways kids could have fun with guns. Groupon sold Uzi target practice. News reports chronicled the burgeoning industry of gun tourism, where people from here and abroad sign up to visit ranges and shoot all kinds of guns.

What has happened? America’s gun culture — a culture in place in various incarnations for a long time — has now changed drastically from what it was just 20 years ago.

Some of it may be due to the way defending absolute gun rights has become co-opted by ideology and partisanship, by big bucks to be had by gun organizations and the political entertainment media that push hot buttons on this issue, and by a generational shift.

The “Greatest Generation” that fought and won World War II is quickly leaving the earth. My late father, Richard Gandelman, on several occasions let his sons and daughter fire a rifle. One of his favorite jokes was that if you turned the U.S. on its side and shook it, all the nuts would land in California.

But when it came to teaching firearms, he was anything but nutty. You respected the rifle. If you shot a target, the idea wasn’t using a gun, the idea was testing your skill to carefully try to hit a target with a fearsome weapon.

The issue now isn’t what kind of parent would let their young child use (even supervised) an Uzi. It’s what has happened the past two decades to make it seemingly fashionable to shoot an Uzi on a range and suggest it’s a child’s right — at even an older age — to do so.

Once again New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz nailed it, in a fictional interview with a pollster about the raging issue of letting kids learn how to use military weapons: “Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution.”

Today, there are more stringent rules for kids who might want to try flying an airplane, driving a car or riding a rollercoaster than they are for kids who want to try an Uzi at a shooting range. There are no federal laws covering childrens’ access to guns.

Young children being allowed to shoot Uzis and defending it, as if the constitution guaranteed the right of kids to try a subautomatic weapon as part and parcel with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? All of this would likely be dismaying to many departed members of The Greatest Generation, particularly its veterans.

My father would probably want to revise his joke: This time it seems like the nuts are scattered all over the country.


Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: