Two days after a shooting instructor was accidentally shot by a 9-year-old girl in Arizona, instructors from the Pikes Peak, Colo. region said safety is the top priority whenever kids enter a shooting range.
The 39-year-old instructor, Charles Vacca, was shot last week when the recoil from an Uzi sent the gun over the girl's head, investigators with the Mohave County Sheriff's Office said. Vacca, who was standing behind her, was shot and died later at a hospital.
"At that age, with that type of firearm, there's a lot of recoil," Ed Rodriguez said of the automatic weapon. "It's hard for even an adult to control it. We wouldn't put a gun like that in a child's hand at all.
"Even with adults, they can get scared and continue to hold the trigger back and it continues to fire," he said. "They panic."
Rodriguez, an instructor and owner of Precision Defensive and Tactical Shooting School, said his shooting range doesn't allow shooters under 10 years of age. He has taught kids as young as 12 or 13, but emphasized that even students that age begin with BB or pellet guns before graduating to small-caliber weapons such as .22 handguns "once they're comfortable and their self-confidence is up."
William Hartman, a shooting instructor with Paradise Sales in Colorado Springs, echoed Rodriguez's assessment that automatic guns and even less imposing weapons can be a challenge for people who seem totally capable at first glance. Hartman said he's seen men that are "6-foot-4 and very sensitive to certain weapons," but noted that sometimes a teenage girl who is small in stature can handle that same gun without a problem.
According to Hartman, his company's instruction includes extensive classroom work before heading to the range. Once on the range, new students go through a "round-robin" session in which they begin with low-caliber guns. Instructors allow each student to shoot a few rounds with each weapon and progress upward in caliber, he said. Every step of the way, Hartman insists students are evaluated and stopped if an instructor decides they've reached their limit.
"It's about training. It's about technique. It's about experience," Hartman said, adding that the students are taught "to make wise, informed decisions" that build confidence.
While Rodriguez and his private range have implemented the age limit, Hartman said his colleagues at Paradise Sales judge each student's ability individually.
Instructors and shooting ranges contacted by The Gazette each implement strict rules of supervision when any kids under 18 are on the ranges.
According to the rules on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex website, the complex does not allow anybody under 18 to shoot without adult supervision. And kids under 6 are not allowed on the range, the site says. Range safety officers monitor all activity.
Hartman said safety officers, qualified instructors and the rules should prevent accidents.
"If you don't follow the rules, something bad can easily happen," Hartman said. "It was a lapse in judgment. There are a lot of things you can do to avoid that."
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