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The Last Stop for anti-gun agitprop? (courtesy

It’s not often that a story runs out of gas by the third paragraph. The Year After Death, Business as Usual at Arizona Gun Range is one of those stories. After briefly introducing a Spanish family visiting The Last Stop gun range – where a nine-year-old girl shot and killed an instructor trying to show her the ways of a full-auto Uzi – scribe Julie Turkewitz’s “exposé” takes a dirt nap. Like this . . .

In the year since a New Jersey girl visited Last Stop and accidentally killed Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old father of four, little has changed in the nation’s tourist-oriented machine gun ranges.

Correct! No one else has been killed or injured. No children, adults, instructors or SWAT-averse dogs have suffered because of their exposure to fully automatic weapons. So . . . what? As Walter Mondale famously demanded, where’s the beef?

It’s the same beef the New York Times has had since The Sullivan Act of 1911: civilians shouldn’t own guns. Never mind shoot them. So the fact that people are shooting guns – children! machine guns! – is a story for the Gray Lady. Whose publisher has a concealed carry permit. Whose family mounted twin machine guns on the Times building to repel looters during the New York City draft riots (though presumably manned by men among men doing manly things).

The fact that “little has changed” changes little about the Times’ insatiable desire to proffer anti-gun agitprop to its left-leaning urban audience, knee-jerk anti-gunners who wouldn’t know a semi-automatic modern sporting rifle from a true “assault rifle.” Or how much fun it is to shoot the latter. To satisfy that brief, Turkewitz digs deep.

Mr. Vacca’s death on Aug. 25 prompted a brief but impassioned conversation: Should Arizona and other states continue to allow children to fire automatic weapons? A video of the girl and the gun in the moments before Mr. Vacca’s death — she wore pink shorts and a ponytail — helped fuel the debate . . .

After Mr. Vacca’s death, legislators in at least two states, Arizona and Louisiana, tried to pass laws that would have set a minimum age for handling an automatic weapon. Both efforts failed. State Representative Victoria Steele, a Democrat who proposed the Arizona bill, said her colleagues would not consider supporting a bill that restricted gun use, fearing a backlash from the National Rifle Association.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have laws that restrict firearm use by children in some way, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Turkewitz has got to get a quote from the antis in there somewhere. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. Setting aside the fact that there isn’t one. In fact, I bet this story was hanging around in the Times’ server waiting for a machine gun-related fatality, preferably of a child. No dice.

[Last Stop gun range owner Sam] Scarmardo said he had decided after the accident to raise the age requirement for shooting to 12, from 9, though employees are allowed to waive that rule when they deem a child large and mature enough to handle a powerful weapon.

“If you’ve got a kid who is five feet tall and as mature as a 25-year-old, he can shoot,” Mr. Scarmardo said.

He added that children were typically restricted to using M16s or belt-fed guns that rest on a table or other surface, though a range employee later said he was unaware of that rule.

Gotcha! Typically, the Times wants readers to think of anyone involved with guns is an uneducated brain-dead yahoo. But, as Nick Leghorn constantly reminds me, you can’t stop the signal. In the final furlong of what should have been a light feature, Turkewitz doesn’t even try.

On a recent weekday, Mr. Calvo, one of the Spanish tourists, was surprised to learn from a reporter that Last Stop was the scene of the killing he had heard about last year. One of his friends, Samuel Pueyo, 29, said: “Shooting is fine as an experience, but for adults — not for children. It’s not ethical for a child.”

But Mr. Nárdiz said he felt very safe, and his children, Jon and Toni, agreed.

“Oh, my God,” Jon said, rattling off the names of the guns he had fired: the MP5, the M4. “At the beginning it was a little scary, but it was so much fun.”

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  1. I believe that the Louisiana State representative who proposed the machine gun ban was Barbara Norton of Shreveport. If brains were dynamite she couldn’t even blow her nose.

  2. Teaching a child to shoot a gun and drive are largely the same thing. There’s a great deal of privilege and that’s coupled with yet more responsibility. While I agree on the principle you should be able to let your new to firearms child shoot a full auto, in many (most) of cases it’s not sensible. Would you put your kid with a learner’s permit behind the wheel of a twin turbo ‘vette on the jug and go “have fun?”

    You work your way up to it in a planned process where they earn the next step over time. The failure to do so was the parent’s to understand the challenge of what the girl was doing and a failure of the instructor to properly evaluate his student in turn giving her a weapon that was too much for her to handle. You could drop any number of devices or inanimate objects into the blanks you wanted to.

    The saddest part of all is she probably could have had a fun day out at the range with a few .22s if she hadn’t shot a firearm before. Instead she was in way over her head, too young to realize it and by consequence left with what will likely amount to therapy bills for life.

    • Mr. Lias,

      I beg to differ on your take of this completely preventable mishap. The “instructor” was completely at fault for his own death. The girl should not have been given complete control of any gun much less something full auto. She obviously was not there to learn a new skill but to experience full auto. It is a tourist attraction. Tourists pay their money and expect to have a safe experience just like riding a roller coaster provided by the staff of the attraction. The “instructor” should have had his hand on the gun to control it himself. If the “instructor” had maintained control of the weapon as he should have a 4 year old could have shot that gun. And the reason I put quotes around the title of instructor is because he obviously wasn’t fulfilling that role. If the object was to teach her how to shoot then, yes, start her out with something easy. Otherwise, maintain safe control of the weapon. And that is what every other instructor/range master apparently does because no one else has had an incident like this.



      • As regretable as his death really is, the simple truth is that he was never in control of the situation. Moreover, simply putting “instructor” behind his name doesn’t make him one. I agree with David in that he wasn’t there to teach or instruct anything. Having this girl fire in full auto is fine but lets not pretend it was anything other than an “experience”. As an NRA Training Counselor & Instructor, I teach minor children how to shoot all the time (rifles and handguns) and always start with a .22LR with one round in the magazine or cylinder. When/if they are ready we step up to hi power but I’m always in control of the shooter and gun.
        Again, I have nothing against ranges who run a tourist operation, even been to a couple but these are not educational events and should not be confused with them.

  3. “If you’ve got a kid who is five feet tall and as mature as a 25-year-old, he can shoot.”

    Judging from some of the 25-year-olds I’ve met in recent years, that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

  4. No one, adult or child, should be given an automatic weapon to shoot without first making sure they can handle the recoil. With children in particular.

    • At 6′ 4″ and 350 pounds even I abide by 1 round, 2 rounds, full mag….working my way up until I’m sure I’m not going full auto.

  5. I understood you, Robert, to be a writer who developed this website to inform and promote Second Amendment rights. Why are you surprised by the New York Time’s piece about this gun range? They aren’t going to change their stripes as well as, your site, Fox, Huffington, etc. are going change. Everyone preaches to their own choir. As a writer, why did you put expose in quotes? I assumed you meant exposé. Reading your “report” I would have thought you’d be happy that nothing has changed in a year as it validates the position of your website. There was no exposé in the NYT or TTAG. Just stories.

  6. There was a lot of fail in that whole situation.
    I also believe the instructor was at fault, but I assume the parents also shared in it. Not being there I don’t know if it was the instructors idea or was it the dad’s? Either way it was stupid, and it was proved to be stupid by the outcome.

    “Experiencing full auto” is as smart for a novice (especially a small child) as driving a 400 hp car would be. In a very controlled circumstance, it may be “fun” but there is really no building block to it, at best it wets the appetite, at worst you get what they got.

    Its much smarter to build slowly upon the fundamentals of marksmanship, than go for “fun”, shooting firearms are not an amusement park ride. It is a martial art, a skill, which is to be respected. When done correctly, it is enjoyable, educational, and serves several purposes.
    The whole “for X$$ you can shoot a machine gun! Fun, Fun!!” is just a stupid business practice. Mostly only possible because of the NFA act. Rant over.

    If you must put a child behind a machine gun, use a crew served weapon.

  7. That story was just a warm up for this:

    Dad was wanting some video to take back to NJ and show dad’s friend, look at my little girl.

    Range wanted $$$$$$ from tourist.

    “Instructor” should have said NO, he is responsible for EVERYONE’s safety.

    Last week at local outdoor range, a father walked in with his 6 year old girl. Was asked how old, 6, sorry but children has to be 10. The guy left in a huff. The little girl made a few comments about shooting at home in backyard. I had no doubt she could shoot, but not every kid that shows up there is as well mannered. There are signs on posted about the age limit. Bad things happen when fun is before safe.

    These kids need to learn their father’s actions/lack of actions caused his death. All he had to say is I don’t feel this is wise and safe.

  8. One year after the enactment of the [politically motivated] Sullivan Law, the NYT lamented that it was “not working as we had hoped.”

  9. “State Representative Victoria Steele, a Democrat who proposed the Arizona bill, said her colleagues would not consider supporting a bill that restricted gun use, fearing a backlash from the National Rifle Association.”

    She’s either lying or ignorant. The NRA has very little, if any, influence in Arizona state legislation while in session. Mainly because the state’s 2A group AZCDL is much more effective politically, so much so the NRA has pulled much of it’s professional lobbying group out of AZ to concentrate elsewhere.

  10. 2 people were killed two days ago on the 405 freeway in Van Nuys, CA. The freeway was open today. NYT where’s the outrage?

  11. Teaching kids how a firearm works is key to decisions later in life. When a firearm is operated the operator receives an ah-ha moment.

    Imagine if you had never held a fire-hose, pressure washer or any tool emitting high pressure. If you are subjected to simply a full blast and you’re not ready you’ll either lose the hose or end up on the ground. It can be formidable even when you’re ready.

    This is what happened here. It was a simple mistake. I have held the instructor handed the kid the firearm and the safety was off or kid was told to get ready to fire. The instructor was preparing to come to the kid, but there was a misunderstood communication and the kid thought the instructor meant to go ahead and fire. No single error was responsible. The rest is history and quite easy to visualize.

  12. News stations should be held to a higher requirement, informing the people of daily factual stories without bias and need to attract attention. Not about having panels that sit around and jerk over what ifs and what nots, but factual information that allowes the viewers to get everything they need to know about a issue, and allowes them to continue with their own speculations and what ifs and what nots themselves.


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