Sometimes the words "too soon" apply strongly to a crude joke or a statement made about something tragic that has happened. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) wasn't trying to strike controversy when it tweeted from its @NRAWomen Twitter handle a link to an article about "7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at The Shooting Range," it received a storm of backlash on social media for its poor timing, coming just two days after a shooting instructor in Arizona was killed by a 9-year-old girl wielding an automatic uzi.
The ensuing backlash from Twitter users in response to the incident and the NRA tweet has added fuel to the debate over whether children should be allowed to possess guns – especially those with bullet-spraying capability like an uzi – even under the supervision of their guardians or licensed instructor.
The article that the NRA Women account linked to its tweet was published by Women's Outdoor News five days before the shooting instructor's accident occurred, and details various objects kids can use as targets to get them interested in firing guns. The tweet was later deleted from the account because many fired back with angry remarks on Twitter, claiming the tweet was in poor taste due to its timing.
Army veteran and shooting instructor Charles Vacca was killed Monday when he switched the setting of his student's uzi, a type of submachine gun that can fire 30 rounds per second, to fully automatic. After switching the settings, the girl lost control of the gun's recoil. Although the girl handled successfully the recoil when the uzi was set on a single shot mode, she could not handle the recoil coming from a barrage of shots.
As Quartz points out, this type of weapon might be too heavy for an average 60 pound, 9-year-old to easily control its recoil. A seven to nine pound uzi being used by a girl her size, is comparable to a grown man trying to wield the type of firearm that should be anchored on a tripod.
In most states in the U.S., a child is allowed to hold a gun only with the parent or guardian's discretion. Charles C.W. Cooke, a columnist for the National Review and frequent commentator on gun control, wrote in a post that the majority of the states' lax laws on kid gun possessing rights are not to blame for incidents like the one in Arizona. He, along with many gun-control advocates and gun-rights advocates on social media, has questioned the parents' judgment to allow her to fire such a powerful weapon.
"I don't think it tells us too much about the law, nor do I think it's that relevant to the question of firearms in the United States," Cooke wrote. "But it does suggest gross negligence on the behalf of the range, the instructor, and the parents. I'm all for teaching children about firearms at a young age. But there is a good way to do this and a bad way to do this."
Cooke wrote that an uzi might be the worst kind of gun to let a child use. He added that at many ranges he's been to, they only allow kids to use a .22 caliber long rifle, which is harder to drop and recoils backwards not upwards.
"An Uzi, on the other hand, seems to be the worst of both worlds… Because their recoil tends to push the weapon upwards, handguns are inherently more difficult for young people to control," Cooke wrote. "This is especially so when they keep firing upon a single trigger pull. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a gun less suited to a small girl."
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at University of California, Los Angeles, told The Wall Street Journal that broad state regulations allow gun ranges to essentially make their own rules on children's involvement at their shooting ranges. While many ranges have restrictions on how old a child must be and what type of gun they can use, not all of them have these rules in place.
Winkler firmly believes that kids should be allowed at shooting ranges for their benefit but agrees that 9-year-olds shouldn't be using uzis.
"There's nothing wrong with having children at gun ranges," Winkler said. "Shootings at gun ranges are freak accidents. They don't happen very often. Usually there's no place where shooters are more supervised than on a gun range."
The Arizona incident is not the first time a tragedy occurred involving a child and an uzi. In 2008, an 8-year old boy was killed after the uzi he fired recoiled upward and the bullet struck him in the head.