On Monday in Arizona, a 9 year-old girl accidentally shot and killed 39 year-old firearms instructor Charles Vacca when the girl lost control of the Uzi submachine gun she was shooting while he was supervising her. The incident was caught on video, the publicized version of which stops just short of the fatal shot. As you can see, Vacca has one hand on his student, and the other on the weapon, when the fatal burst is fired:
The accident took place at the The Bullets and Burgers Adventure shooting range, where you can "Let 'em rip!" and where "alcohol is optional."
The story has been all over the news today, accompanied by a bit of "expert" commentary from Bob Irwin, owner of Las Vegas' The Gun Store, who is presented as the voice of opposition to those who think little kids shouldn't be handling machine guns, even with supervision. Here's the package that NBC News' Katy Tur is shopping all over NBC and MSNBC, in which she explains what "some say," while "others" say something else:
Tur: "Others assert the incident is merely an unfortunate accident."
Bob Irwin: "What you're talking about, from what I understand of this incident, is extremely unusual. I've been at this now for 40 years, and I've never heard of something like this happening.”
Irwin's personal knowledge notwithstanding, journalists have a duty to deal in facts, and the fact is that this incident isn't something new. Stop me if this looks familiar:
That was video of a 2008 accident in Massachusetts that killed 8 year-old Christopher Bizilj, and as you can see, the instructor in that case also had one hand on Christopher, and one hand on the weapon. Responsible adult supervision is not even the answer with weapons that aren't fully automatic, as incident after incident demonstrate.
Yet our gun control debate has devolved to the point where even on supposedly liberal MSNBC, the commentary on this latest incident has been along the lines that while other guns are ok for kids, maybe they shouldn't be firing machine guns, and even then, just maybe. Instead of relying on one gun store owner with a bad memory, maybe reporters like Tur could call on experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics, who explain that guns and kids flat-out don't mix, that even locking up your guns doesn't work.
Or maybe they could listen to the kindergarten student who brought a loaded .22 to school this week:
Bob Allen from Pittsburgh’s local CBS channel KDKA reported that the boy brought the loaded .22 to Aliquippa Elementary School because he didn’t want anyone at his home to get hurt. “Sources tell KDKA’s Bob Allen that the boy said he brought the gun to school to get it out of his home, reportedly because he didn’t want anyone in his house to get hurt.
And maybe, while they're at it, journalists like Tur could inform the public that while the NRA insists that it’s all about keeping guns away from kids, it's also telling its members that if they lock up their guns, their families will be murdered.
The pressure to baby-talk gun nuts is overwhelming, but misinforming the public about the risks posed by firearms is unacceptable. Whatever choices the law continues to allow, people deserve to make those choices in an informed manner.
Update: It's worth noting that NBC is using a chopped-up version of Bob Irwin's quote, although the context doesn't seem to change his meaning in any meaningful way, and appears to have been cut for time. For the sake of accuracy, though, here's the full quote:
Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store, says the Uzi that was used in at the range that struck 39-year-old Charles Vacca, is typically very safe because it has a safety button on the grip, behind the trigger.
“This must be depressed and the trigger bolt to fire the gun,” Irwin said. “What you're talking about, from what I understand of this incident, is extremely unusual. I've been at this now for 40 years. We've been having a machine gun rental range, and I've never heard of something like this happening.”