A GIRL aged nine accidentally killed an Arizona shooting instructor as he was showing her how to use an Uzi submachine gun in a case which has led to bafflement at American willingness to allow children access to weapons.
Charles Vacca, 39, died on Monday shortly after being airlifted to University Medical Centre in Las Vegas, Mohave County sheriffs said.
Mr Vacca was standing next to the girl at the Bullets and Burgers outdoor shooting range 25 miles south of Las Vegas when she pulled the trigger and the recoil sent the gun over her head, investigators said.
Authorities said the girl was at the shooting range with her parents. Her identity has not been released.
Police have issued a video which shows nearly half a minute of the shooting lesson before the accident.
Mr Vacca, dressed in a dark shirt and camouflage trousers, speaks to a girl who has braided hair and is wearing earmuffs
“We have to keep that held in,” he says, showing her the Israeli-made Uzi in his hands. “Otherwise the gun won’t fire, OK?”
He gives her the weapon and helps her adjust her arms and her stance – “just like that” – and, at his instruction, the girl shoots once at a target. Her shot lands slightly to its left.
“All right!” Mr Vacca cheers.
As he gives further directions, a quick sequence of shots can be heard, and the gun begins tilting up. The video clip ends before he is struck. Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe said the full video of the incident was “ghastly”.
He said that the girl had successfully fired the weapon several times before when it was set on single shot mode.
But on this occasion the weapon was set to full-automatic mode. “The guy just dropped,” Sheriff McCabe said of Mr Vacca, who he said suffered more than one gunshot to the head.
Sheriff McCabe told the Las Vegas Review Journal that no charges would be filed because Bullets and Burgers was licensed as a gun range. Many people took to social media to condemn the decision to allow a nine-year-old girl to fire a weapon.
Liz Matthews, a producer on a US television sports show, wrote: “A story involving a nine-year-old shooting an Uzi at a place called Burgers and Bullets would have been appalling enough. Horrifying.”
Nikki Bateman asked: “Why you’d even let a nine-year-old handle a gun in the first place?!”
It is not known if the range had an age limit on shooting or if the girl was going through a safety class.
Friends paid tribute on Facebook to Mr Vacca, a US army veteran and a married father, as a great friend and soldier.
Best friend Robert Vera said they often laughed so much that they could not breathe.
“He became a brother and a major part of my life through thick and thin,” Mr Vera said. “Rest In Peace brother.”
Ronald Scott, a Phoenix-based firearms safety expert, said most American shooting ranges have an age limit and strict safety rules when teaching children to shoot. He said instructors usually have their hands on guns when children are firing high-powered weapons.
“You can’t give a nine-year-old an Uzi and expect her to control it,” Mr Scott said.
In 2008, eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj died in a similar accident at a gun exhibition in Massachusetts.
The boy was firing a micro Uzi – which can discharge 20 rounds a second – at a pumpkin when the recoil caused him to lose control of the weapon, and he shot himself in the head.