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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: America’s exceptional view of guns

August 31, 2014

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Sometimes you read a sentence and you think to yourself: only here, only us.

Here’s one such sentence.

“A 9-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi submachine gun while he stood to her left side, trying to guide her.”

That’s from a New York Times account of the death of 39-year-old Charles Vacca, who worked for the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Ariz. He died Monday when his preteen student lost control of the Uzi. Apparently, the gun was in “repeat fire” mode, the recoil lifted the muzzle, the little girl couldn’t master it and Vacca was struck in the head.

The child and her family, who have not been identified, were vacationing last week in nearby Las Vegas and had signed up for a package deal offered by the gun range. It included a tour of Hoover Dam, a hamburger lunch, an optional helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon and the chance to fire a range of powerful weapons, including sniper rifles, grenade launchers and machine guns. Everything was going fine until, as the Times put it, the “adventure went horribly wrong.”

For the record, some of us would argue that “horribly wrong” began, not when the child lost control of the gun, but when “adults” first placed this powerful piece of military hardware into her small hands. That act raises questions that are as blunt and indecorous as they are necessary and unavoidable:

What kind of shooting range allows a prepubescent girl to fire an Uzi? What kind of instructor does not guard against recoil when a child is handling such a powerful weapon? What kind of parents think it’s a good idea to put a submachine gun in their 9-year-old’s hands? And what kind of idiot country does not prohibit such things by law?

It is the last question that should most concern us. There’s not much you can do about individual lack of judgment. Some people will always be idiots. Some companies will always be idiots. But a country and its laws should be an expression of a people’s collective wisdom. So for a country to be idiotic says something sweeping about national character.

And where gun laws are concerned, the United States of America is — individual dissenting voices duly noted and exempted from the following descriptive — dumber than a bag of bullets. This, after all, is the country where you can take a gun into a bar. Where you can erect a shooting range in your own backyard. Where a blind person can get a gun permit. You think it’s insane that Arizona allows a 9-year-old to shoot at a firing range? ABC News reports that one in Texas allows them to do so at age 6.

Six.

God bless America. We legislate against sharia law in places where there are no Muslims, much less an inclination toward sharia. We pass laws to curtail election fraud despite the fact that election fraud, as a practical matter, does not exist. Yet we endure a yearly toll of gun carnage that makes civilized people in civilized places shake their heads in wonder and our only action is inaction.

We should mourn for this little girl who will have to live the rest of her life with the memory of what she inadvertently did. But let us also mourn for a country where what she did now barely qualifies as news.

We speak often and with pride of America’s exceptionalism — by which we mean our rights, our freedoms, our values. And they are, make no mistake, among the finest in the world.

But there are days when the bullets fly and the blood flows and no one can give you a good reason why this had to happen, and it occurs to you that we are also exceptional in the sheer, stubborn stupidity of which we are all too often capable. Last week brought another such day. A man was killed by a 9-year-old wielding a submachine gun.

Only here, only us.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Stand by, every NRA gun nut will be on here attacking Mr Pitts for honesty in his column.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think you're wrong Philipp. We "gun nuts" won't attack Pitts for his honesty, just his stupidity on the subject of guns.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 4 weeks ago

What about the stupidity of guns that the gun range people and this girl's parents apparently possess? Not to be mean, but I think the gun instructor got what he deserved. I'm sorry for his family though. I'll bet the gun range is back out there handing oversized guns to undersized kids.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I have to agree with you about the instructor. I also agree with you about letting a little kid having more than they can handle safely. What I don't agree with is Pits views on guns in general and the anti-gun "nuts" habit of using every stupid accident as a reason to try to demonize all gun owners.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 4 weeks ago

And yet, you would oppose requiring gun owners to have extensive training. Personally, that is all I would ask, well that and limited rounds. You can't own a gun, until you have gone through training, and not the concealed carry training which is a joke. Then if someone has a gun without a license they can be charged. If an accident happens with a gun and you have a license, then a slap on the wrist. If you don't have a license, it's manslaughter and you go to prison. Anyone can go in and buy a gun. They may never have shot a gun before in their lives, but they can still have one. They don't know how to properly maintain a gun, but they can still have one. They don't know any safety rules, but they can still own one. And it's all the fashion nowadays. Could be your next door neighbor.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Dorthy, I sure would oppose requiring extensive training, not just for guns but for voting and free speech. Constitutional rights are guaranteed!. I sure have never heard that a CC permit is a license to kill. I think you might have manslaughter and justifiable homicide confused. Also CC training is not about how to fire a weapon, but rather learning when you could..

Brett McCabe 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The demonization of gun owners is a figment of your collective imaginations. Yeah, if you want to carry a gun into a fast-food restaurant, or give an Uzi to a little girl or fight any sort of reasonable control on the mass availability of deadly, single-purpose weapons, then we might think that you are a little nutty. Not necessarily demons, thoug.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Where did I say anything about demons? If you want to own a gun you have to train to use them, that's all I want. I think that is a reasonable request. I know next to nothing about guns, yet I have a concealed carry license. And I'm not the only one out there. That doesn't bother you? Responsible gun owners are well trained, and wouldn't let an untrained person handle guns. But many of them would oppose requiring a license to own a gun after going through training. The NRA suggests training, but they oppose any effort to keep untrained people from owning guns. Why? These aren't the same guns as when when the constitution was written. These are guns expressly made to kill as many people as quickly as possible.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Dorothy, what a horrible thing to say that the instructor got what they deserved. He did nothing illegal, he made a horrible mistake and paid for it with his life leaving children fatherless. No, he didn't get what he deserved.

And Dorothy, what do you call someone who preaches one thing but practices another? You want the government to mandate training, call the CCW training a joke, admit you're not trained and yet don't seek out training.

The CCW training isn't gun handling training. It is training on the CCW law and a proficiency test.

No other right is more regulated than the right to bear arms, but you want more meaningless restrictions of the right. Let's compare freedom of speech to owning a gun. The only restrictions on speech are prohibitions on harming people with it. No test to use it, no regulation of the type of media for speech, no license and so on.

But to own a gun, except for private sales, you must pay a fee, pass a background check and are limited in the type of weapons you may purchase.

The cost for. CCW license is over $300 dollars. This disenfranchises the poor and minorities who tend to be poor.

You're right, technology has changed since the writing of the constitution but the the Constitution allowed for private ownership of military grade guns whose purpose was to kill as many people and as quickly as possible.

Want to limit the 2nd amendment to the weapons of the day, then start writing with a quill and ink. Technology does change.

The type of range in which the accident occurred is regulated by the state. The state sets the rules. And where you build a gun ranges is highly restricted. In fact, law enforcement have a hard time locating ranges nowadays so your build one in the backyard is not exactly true.

I want people to be safe, I want responsible gun ownership and I don't want preventable accidents like the Las Vegas accident from happening but I don't want our rights to be denied. Want to change a right? Then amend the Constitution otherwise rights are meaningless.

BTW a teenager just died taking a Lamborghini for a test ride. Just as stupid as letting a 9 year old fire a machine gun.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

An excellent and well thought out post Fred!

Josh Thompson 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Lamborghini - manufactured for flashy transportation

UZI - manufactured for use as a personal defense weapon by rear-echelon troops, officers, artillery troops and tankers, as well as a frontline weapon by elite light infantry assault forces

Apples and Oranges.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

What kind of training do you need to point and shoot? Practice can make you far more accurate though! even in controlled training environments accidents can happen. That why we are having this conversation. As far as the demonetization thing, that wasn`t directed at you personally. Rather at the collective mindset of the anti-gun nuts. :)

Brett McCabe 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I wasn't replying to you. I believe that the post I was replying to was deleted.

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The stupidity is shown by the gun nuts who see nothing wrong with a 9 year old using an automatic weapon.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Is it wrong for a 9 y/o to drive a farm truck? Or a tractor? How about a dirt bike? Jet ski? Snowmobile?

Brett McCabe 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Are those deadly weapons designed for the exclusive purpose of delivering a lethal blow? No. Try another comparison.

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Another comparison would require common sense, which far too many gun nuts lack.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Nope, no need too. They are all every bit as capable of delivering a deadly blow. Nor are all guns used exclusively for deadly force. I would be willing to bet 99.9% of all bullets shot are for target practice.

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Less chance of killing someone. And most 9 year old children are supervised by responsible people and not simply turned loose with any of the above.

Mike Ford 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Not the point subject changer but then you all are good at that right?

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Where have I changed the subject? Almost anything can be a weapon if used improperly or in too young hands. Im sorry you people are so afraid of guns. But at least I wont try to make you own one, nor will I let you take mine.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

To your point: number of accidental child deaths in 2000

174 firearm 1236 drowning 6436 motor vehicle 842 unintentional suffocation 123 ATVs

As for farm accidents, 33,000 per year with about 100 deaths.

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yes, I have. But your "examples" have nothing to with stupidity of gun nuts.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Nope just with stupidity of people in general.

Josh Thompson 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"his stupidity on the subject of guns."

You honestly don't think putting an UZI in the hands of a 9 year old girl is stupid?

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 4 weeks ago

@ Phillip Wannemaker - Supporting second amendment rights does not make a person a "gun nut" just like verbal caricature and hyperbole doesn't make someone a "liberal pinhead."

Philipp Wannemaker 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Actually gun nut is an appropriate term for the people who will now attack anyone using common sense and having an IQ greater than their numerical age.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Phillipp, actually we gun nuts are in good company! ever hear of Benjamin Franklin? Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, How about Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. I think we should include Albert Eisenstein after all he helped create the most devastating weapon ever devised by man. Funny thing about Eisenstein, He was often made fun of in the news for his clothes. He once said that once you accept the fact that matter is something created from nothing, plaid with stripes comes easy.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"And what kind of idiot country does not prohibit such things by law?"

Good question!!

We have laws that concern dangerous drugs, dangerous drivers, dangerous animals and so on. And yet, we cannot have laws regulating the most dangerous items among us. What country indeed??

This all comes from a total mis-reading of the U.S. Constitution regarding "a well-regulated miitia. Clearly the people who wrote these words intended to maintain a military force to defend the country and to secure the freedom of the people. I doubt that they would allow such reckless and loose wording knowing the state of affairs in the country today where there is free access to all sorts of military style killing machines. This coupled with the deplorable state of treatment of mental illness victims in the country.

This combined with the presence in our society of those who would think that the government is trying to "take their hunting rifles", these people who think that they would go out with their hunting rifles and oppose the "guvmrnt" who is "coming after" them.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

You're entitled to your opinion but it is just that, an opinion. The SCOTUS has rules and their opinion is the law.

Mike Ford 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I own and collect firearms I got my first shotgun in Louisiana when I was eight years old. I had a Stevens Single Shot 20 gauge which I still own. I never handled anything like an UZI 9 mm submachine gun when I was nine like this girl. The first mention I saw of an UZI was in 1981 in a firearms catalogue book I got for Christmas. Normally because of the 1934 Federal Act that prohibited civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons I wouldn't expect to see a nine year old at a civilian range with this gun. One must possess a Class III firearms license to procure such a weapon and these guns aren't cheap which in itself is a form of gun control. Even the now infamous Will Hayden formerly of "Sons of Gun's" fame and now probably of Angola State Prison fame lost his Class III license when a couple of fully auto gun actions disappeared from his shop and one of his underlings had to take over running the shop because that person did have a viable Class III license. This 1934 Gun law was is response to the Barkers, Floyds, and Bonny and Clydes, having Thompson and Browning Automatic Rifles (BARS) robbing National Guard armories in resident states and procuring said weapons to outgun law enforcement in the 1930's. I always hear from the frothing at the mouth people that there should be enforcement of the laws on the books than more new laws. However if these "thigh bone is connected to the footbone" people ever realized that the budget cutting Republicans and Tea Partiers they vote for cut the funds to enforce said laws on the books concerning gun laws and realized funding a government to actually function is a good thing then maybe certain situations might change. However in this day and age paranoia drowns out education and facts.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

For those that want to ban or severely restrict gun ownership, let me propose a fair compromise. Amend the constitution to prohibit gun ownership by all private individuals - no exceptions. This means no private body guard, no private security, etc. Bloomberg, this means you cannot prevent others from protecting themselves and their families with guns while affording yourself the same protection you seek to ban. Celebrities, better learn a martial art because you can't have an armed body guard. Same with politicians. No protection for you unless provided by the government.

Oh yeah, and one other requirement. Since this is about saving lives everyone, adults and children must wear crash helmets while in a car. Think of the lives that will be saved.

Of course that is a bit tongue in cheek, but here is my real solution.

Free background checks and transfers for private sales. Not mandated but optional. Go to any gun shop and sell your gun to another individual and the gun shop will handle the transaction at no charge but will be reimbursed by the government.

NRA and other gun groups - focus more on safety.

Life sentences for any violent premeditated crime involving a gun regardless of age. Life sentence for any convicted felon in possession of a gun Mandatory reporting of persons using psychotropic drugs to the background database and funding for it.

It is a right to own a gun but it is also a responsibility.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Not sure how many lives crash helmets would save, but seat belts have saved quite a few, and in most states you are suppose to wear them. Next point? If you add training in there, I could agree to that. But also there need to be consequence for accidents through stupidity. I think this girl's parents need to be charged for letting her do this. The company should be charged too. Anyone leaving a gun out where children can get to it and shoots someone, that person should be charged.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Dorothy, there are already consequences for stupidity. People get sued for stupidity all the time. People can be charged for leaving a gun out where a child can get it.

The little girl committed no crime and the parents broke now law so what would you charge them with?

And as I said, my post about helmets was tongue in cheek, but hey let's play it out a bit more. Dorothy, if a helmet saved just one child's life it'd be worth it.

BTW I am really surprised you posted that the instructor deserved to die. Really heartless and not what I'd expect from you.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 4 weeks ago

He and the parents allowed a young child who wasn't big enough to handle such an awful gun. He was suppose to be the "responsible" gun owner. Apparently not. That's why I said he deserved to die. If you like to play with guns, and you're not careful, whose fault is it when you die? Maybe deserved is not the word; maybe fault is more what I meant. It was entirely his fault, but also sharing fault with the parents and the company for allowing this sort of thing at all. The girl needs to be counseled that it was never her fault, but I'll bet she is pretty traumatized. I wonder if she'll ever pick up another gun again?

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

He didn't own the gun. He was an instructor doing his job. He made a mistake and paid for it with his life. Yes, it was his fault, no one else's, but I feel sorry for him and for his young children who lost their father.

Yes, the daughter should receive counseling.

I won't argue that a young child should be allowed to handle that type of firearm. They shouldn't it is too powerful for them.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Mike I am whole-heartedly in favor of every gun you want to own and your right to own it.

What I want is some sort of restriction of war machines. We cannot own tanks, (I think) We cannot own live bombs and other mass destruction weapons. But I do not oppose the ownership of guns. I do support the rules for background checks and the prohibition of felons owning weapons. I would like to see some sort of system where we could make a wise decision as to who should be allowed to buy and own these dangerous weapons. But here comes the rub, who is to make that decision? The NRA wants no restrictions on anyone owning any sort of weapon of mass destruction. Sane and responsible people want to be protected against fools buying guns and shooting up schools and movie theatres. So what do we do? Then NRA says nothing. I say something.

By the way, anyone who has been in the military knows that you do not reveal you defensive capability to anyone. I remind anyone who brags about all their weaponry and how many and what kind of artillery they own, that someone could l come at you better armed than you, knowing your own defensive capability. You might ponder this as you list all your toys.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yes private individuals do own tanks.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger crushes items with his personal tank in charity promotion."

Bob Smith 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"..he NRA wants no restrictions on anyone owning any sort of weapon of mass destruction..." You lie.

Mike Ford 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I see it now....you all want the mythology and lies of the 1980's back......thanks for the images...all you're missing is Red Dawn, 10 Chuck Norris movies and some more Ollie North mythology. Too bad people don't see the real world.

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Chuck Norris and Superman once had a fight on a bet. The loser had to start wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants.

Chuck Norris once urinated in a semi truck's gas tank as a joke. That truck is now known as Optimus Prime.

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 4 weeks ago

If you spell "Chuck Norris" in scrabble, you win. Forever.

Chuck Norris counted to infinity. Twice.

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Google won't search for Chuck Norris because Google knows that Chuck Norris finds you.

Leslie Swearingen 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you Scott, I got a laugh out of all the comments. I have a Chuck Norris poster.

Leslie

Bob Smith 3 months, 4 weeks ago

You are spinning an awful lot from a single photo, Mike.

Fred Mertz 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Bob as I am sure you understand it was a pic to answer a question semi-posed by Whitehead when he said you can't own tanks I think? Whitehead was wrong and the the pic was simply a pic of Arnold's personal tank.

The anti-gunner group has to fabricate conspiracies, lies and strawman arguments to further their anti-gun agenda.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It must be terrible to be a anti-gun nut! Having to live their entire lives in fear of being shot by law abiding citizens. Of course they have a better chance dying by falling in their own bathrooms. Makes me wonder if they take showers wearing helmets. . .or maybe tin foil hats..

Mike Ford 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I am a gun owning SANE person. I don't wear my gun on my sleeve constantly as a visible sign of insecurity. I see civility....I don't see paranoia and arming myself to the gill. I do have a fear of being shot by someone who isn't a trained and employed law enforcement official. I don't care for people who don't acknowledge the boundaries between law enforcement and rent a cop wannabe. Some people mock without realizing they're the problem and I do wonder where THEIR tinfoil hats are. Maybe it's because they're in a land they took that they weren't originally part of that they feel this never ending paranoia to defend what they took. I watch the movie "Mandela" and at the end the Afrikaner officials see the writing on the wall and they slowly begin allowing Nelson Mandela freedom and they discuss the future with him and they are afraid of the vengeance he and the minority/majority population will most certainly push upon them because they assume he will act as vengeful as they do. He tells them the pity he has for them because their thought process is a prisoner of this vengeful nature and this vengeful nature traps them and doesn't allow objectivity in. These Afrikaners are prisoners of thinking in a reactionary nature without insight and ARMED to the gill. You don't see any similarities do you?

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Sorry, Mike. You obviously fit Phillip Wannemaker's definition of a "gun nut". Too bad. You're one of us now. I guess you should just go ahead and vote conservative because the left will never have you back until you destroy all of your weapons and apologize, in writing, in this paper. Preferably, you should take out an ad stating how sorry you are so for supporting the murder of children in our communities every day.

Mike Ford 3 months, 3 weeks ago

No because I'm not like you. You prove my point by seeing everything in an absolutist view. I can help research a Dutch 11mm Beaumont rifle from the 1870's and be a thinking person when it comes to firearms. I see the academic and historical part of weaponry without any of the conservative chest thumping emotional part of clinging that gets you in so much trouble. If you all ever stopped being clingers and started being thinkers I think I'd fall over. I knew KU professors years ago who weren't clingers and had weaponry that would make you jealous. They understood the difference between appreciating history and collecting and chest thumping and Charleton Heston. The NRA and their politicization of gun owning is what's messing everything up. I wish I had the magical power the NRA has to get everyday people to vote against their own interests with fear and paranoia that isn't really even proven. I laughed when I heard about the federal government storing ammunition they took off the open market and storing it at a closed Chilocco Indian School Near Kaw City, Oklahoma last year. This sounds absolutely insane but you all run with it like it's the truth. I love when hoarding profiteers buy up 22. cal ammo and mark it three times up just to make $ off their own consumers and then blame everyone else. Using fear of a president to sell guns is ridiculous but you all do this.

Lawrence Freeman 3 months, 3 weeks ago

@ Mike. I have not seen any comments in this thread that can be considered chest thumping. Other than your own that is. You claim to be a thinker, yet you must be wearing blinders not to notice all the attacks against the 2nd amendment in the last few years. A very vocal minority will never be happy as long as there is a single gun in private possession (at least in any other hands than their own of course). Somehow too many posters seem to feel that every law abiding, hard working citizen with a gun they consider to awful, or deadly or too warlike is a threat to them. Paranoia run deep. Outside of law enforcement and the military shooting guns is nothing but a sport or a means f self defense for a couple of hundred million people or so.

Leslie Swearingen 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, in the colonies the militia was every man and boy that could hold a weapon and fight. There was a law that mandated that every male between fifteen and sixty was to own a weapon and to have a certain amount of ammo for it on hand.

They had to be sure shots because they used those skills to hunt and put food on the table for their families. They knew how to keep silent while tracking animals and not get noticed. It was these skills along with those of General Washington and the other leaders who gave us our independence and made us a country.

The trip to the firing range was part of a package deal that included Hoover Dam and a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon. It costs a lot of money and the customer is always right. I am thinking that a lot of children have gone though this firing range and this was the first since accident. This instructor got careless and paid for it with his life. He did not deserve it.

Leslie

Josh Thompson 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 people. SEVENTEEN NINETY-ONE. That's 223 years ago, and lots of things have changed. You don't have to fight off natives for encroaching on their land, militia's are a thing of the past, JUST LIKE THE NEED TO ARM ONESELF TO THE TEETH. Furthermore, what does the 2nd amendment have to do with the idiocy of placing a machine gun in the hands of a child? Guns were created to kill more efficiently. PERIOD. I feel for the guy's family, but wat can you expect when you place an instrument of death in the hands of a 9 year old. Darwinism I guess.

Bob Smith 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"...And there is another type of Caps Lock user who doesn’t capitalize whole sentences but INSTEAD capitalizes a few SPECIFIC words for EMPHASIS. Now read a sentence like that aloud, shouting every time you come to a capitalized word, and tell me you do not sound like an absolute freakin’ lunatic. This method can turn even basic known facts into crazy-sounding gibberish (“The SQUARE of the HYPOTENUSE of a RIGHT triangle equals the SUM of the squares of the OTHER two sides”)..." http://pjmedia.com/blog/tips-for-not-appearing-crazy-on-the-internet/ Have a happy Friday, Josh.

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