Q&A: Few laws govern children at shooting range

A 39-year-old firing-range instructor was killed Monday while showing a 9-year-old girl how to use an Uzi submachine gun. Charles Vacca's death at the Last Stop outdoor shooting range in White Hills, Arizona, has raised questions about allowing young children access to such weapons at firing ranges.

SHOULD YOUNG CHILDREN HANDLE FIREARMS LIKE UZIS?

Gun experts say what types of firearms a child can handle depends largely on the strength and experience of the child — but the notion of giving a 9-year-old a fully automatic Uzi made many queasy. Joe Waldron, an NRA-certified shooting instructor and range safety officer in Washington state, said: "For me as an instructor, I would not allow it, but I wasn't there." Dave Workman, who was a firearms instructor for 30 years, said it can be safe to allow children to shoot automatic weapons if a properly trained adult is helping them hold it.

HAVE THERE BEEN OTHER FATAL INCIDENTS AT RANGES INVOLVING CHILDREN?

In 2008, an 8-year-old Connecticut boy named Christopher Bizilj accidentally killed himself at a Massachusetts gun expo when he couldn't handle the recoil of an Uzi submachine gun similar to the one that killed Vacca. The former chief who organized the expo was acquitted of manslaughter and other charges.

DO LAWS PROHIBIT YOUNG CHILDREN FROM GUN RANGES?

Waldron, the legislative director of the Washington State Rifle and Pistol Association, and Workman, senior editor at thegunmag.com and a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said they were unaware of any states restricting the ages of children at gun ranges. The National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks legislation on myriad issues, said it did not immediately have any data on the topic.

Lindsey Zwicker, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that following the 2008 shooting in Massachusetts, Connecticut adopted a law banning anyone under the age of 16 from handling machine guns at shooting ranges, even with a parent's permission. "This is an action states can do to prevent something like this from happening again," she said.

IS IT COMMON FOR YOUNG CHILDREN TO USE GUNS?

Many children learn to handle a gun at a young age — 8 or 10 — and some shoot competitively. Waldron said most typically learn on a lighter bolt-action rifle, such as a .22-caliber, with safety reminders before, during and after they handle a weapon.

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