The gun control debate has a new dimension: gun control for children.
On Monday in White Hills, Arizona, a 9-year-old girl lost control of an Uzi submachine gun, shooting and killing Charles Vacca, her 39-year-old instructor. Not only did the girl have her parents’ permission to try the weapon, but they also videotaped her using it.
This isn’t the first time such a tragedy has occurred. In 2008 an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot himself with the same type of weapon in Springfield, Massachusetts.
A 9-year-old can’t consume alcohol, drive a car or vote. Why should she be handed a weapon used by military forces, even under the supervision of an instructor?
Federal government studies show that unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people in 2010. One report said that 8 percent of the deaths from unintentional shootings were due to shots fired by children under the age of 6.
Even though many states don’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to possess a firearm, few laws bar minors from using guns at designated shooting ranges.
In Pennsylvania, no one under 18 may possess or transport a firearm unless the minor is supervised by an adult and is participating in safety training, target shooting or hunting. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says a child under 12 can hold a firearm if he or she has a hunting permit signed by a parent and is accompanied by a licensed mentor who is over 21.
It goes without saying that guns are not toys. While the country has laws meant to keep firearms away from those with mental illness or criminal records, statutes should also protect the public from carelessness, immaturity and the inability to use guns properly.
Some parents and gun range operators may think it’s all right for a child to hold enormous firepower, but the loved ones of victims such as Charles Vacca know it is not.