On August 25, an American family’s vacation went terribly wrong.
A man, his wife and their three children stopped at a shooting range in the southwestern state of Arizona. At a shooting range, people pay to fire guns at targets.
Charles Vacca worked for the business, called Bullets and Burgers. He helped the family’s nine-year-old girl shoot a submachine gun called an Uzi.
But the girl lost control of the weapon. At least one bullet hit Mr. Vacca in the head. He fell to the ground. Later, he died of his injuries.
No one has been charged with a crime. In fact, the families of both Mr. Vacca and the girl have said they feel very bad for each other.
But the event has made Americans talk once again about guns and children. In the United States, federal law bars anyone younger than 18 from owning a handgun. But, many state laws give young people the right to shoot all kinds of guns under certain conditions.
“For some people it’s recreational, for a lot of people it’s also about personal safety and the right to defend yourself.”
Jim Tuttle is a reporter. He researched U.S. gun culture for a project called News21. One of the groups he visited was a citizen militia in the state of Mississippi.
“The folks that I met in the militia especially, they want their kids to be able to defend themselves if there’s, you know, a home intruder or a home invasion or something like that.”
In other words, some Americans say children – like adults – need to learn to shoot a weapon so they can protect themselves.
Others say shooting guns is just part of the way they grew up.
“I’m 12 years old. I’ve been shooting since I was 9.”
Miguel Millan was another person Jim Tuttle spoke with. Miguel attended a summer camp for boys. There, campers learned to shoot animals.
“I’ve learned that patience is one of the most important parts, and that you have to be really calm when you’re getting ready to shoot.”
Miguel’s teacher said learning to hunt gives children a chance to be in nature and spend time with others. The camp also gives lessons in gun safety.
“Safety” is a word many people use when it comes to children and guns. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that over one-third of American homes have a gun. So, the argument goes, children could easily see a gun at home, or in the home of a friend or neighbor, and decide to fire it. Indeed, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital says about 1,500 children die every year from a gun accident. Many more are injured.
Laura Cutilletta is a lawyer for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She said most U.S. states have firm restrictions on keeping children away from guns in the home. But state laws about children hunting or shooting for fun – such as at a shooting range – are much looser.
“When we’re talking about an actual firearm, I think there should be an age limit. Even at a target shooting range. Even when there’s an adult present. Just like with a car.”
In general, most states permit children to hunt or use a gun when an adult is with them. But, Laura Cutilletta notes that even a responsible adult cannot protect a child who is too young to shoot a gun safely.
And, she says no one needs to shoot the most powerful guns just for fun.
“I don’t know that there’s any age when I think someone should be shooting a machine gun. Even an adult. I mean, that is a military weapon that belongs on the battlefield and nowhere else.”
Po Murray has a similar opinion. She is chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance. Newtown is the community in Connecticut where a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six teachers at an elementary school in 2014. He also killed his mother and himself.
Ms. Murray said the U.S. needs to have stronger laws about teaching children to use guns safely. She adds that American movies, video games and language create a culture of gun violence.
“Given that there are many societal influences on violence, I mean, it’s bound to happen, you know, something like Newtown shooting is bound to happen with all that influence and easy access to guns and assault rifles.”
Ms. Murray hopes the problem can be reduced with time. Gun ownership is declining in the United States, she said. But, if more young people learn to shoot, that trend could change.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Kelly Jean Kelly reported this story from Washington. George Grow edited it.
Words in this Story
militia – n. an army of citizens instead of professional soldiers
patience – n. the ability to wait for a long time without becoming upset
influence – n. the power to change or affect someone or something
access – n. a way of being able to use or get something