We previously discussed the tragic case of an eight-year-old boy who shot himself accidentally with a fully automatic Uzi. A similar tragedy has now occurred but it is the instructor who was killed by a 9-year-old girl learning to fire a submachine gun in Arizona at the Bullets and Burgers shooting range. The instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, died at a hospital after he was shot in the head.
Bullets and Burgers allows children between 8 and 17 to shoot such weapons. An Uzi is an Israeli-made submachine gun. In this case, the recoil moved the weapon off the shoulder of the little girl and turned toward the instructor. The video showing the event up to the second before the shooting is shown below. The video shows Vacca positioning the little and her firing off a single round. Vacca then adjusted the Uzi, put his right hand on her back and his left under her right arm. She fired several rounds in rapid succession before the gun kicked to the left as she lost control. She was with her parents.
Bullets and Burgers advertises that “We separate ourselves from all other Las Vegas ranges with our unique ‘Desert Storm’ atmosphere and military style bunkers.”
These types of accidents are generally covered under issues of assumption of the risk and contractual waivers by all of the parties, including the instructors. The death would be covered under worker’s compensation unless the Vacca family will seek negligence liability for how the facility is run or structured as well as standards of training and safety. There is the separate question of whether the state should limit such use of weapons, a highly controversial question with gun rights advocates who are likely to point out that all of the parties consent to such risks (with the parents consenting for the minor). Finally, there is the emotional distress for this little girl who will have to live with this incredibly horrific memory.
Notably, some coverage suggests that Vacca may have been negligent in where he was standing. Greg Block, who runs California-based Self-Defense Firearms Training, said that a child should not be using this type of gun and that Vacca “was literally in the line of fire. He did pretty much everything wrong, and I don’t like saying that because it cost the man his life.” That would raise the question of possible liability of the range if the family were to sue over the trauma to their daughter, though such a lawsuit would present difficult issues since they would effectively have to sue the man killed by the minor under a respondeat superior theory.
In the Massachusetts case, former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury was found not guilty two years ago in a prosecution for involuntary manslaughter and furnishing a machine gun to a minor in the death of 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj.