KINGMAN, Ariz. — An outdoor shooting range in northwest Arizona where a 9-year-old girl mortally wounded an instructor Monday is open for business, its operator said Wednesday.
Sam Scarmardo, the owner of Bullets and Burgers along U.S. Highway 93 about 60 miles southeast of Las Vegas, said the range and another he owns in Lake Havasu City have operated incident- and injury-free for years.
“We’ve had, between the two ranges, tens of thousands of people shoot and probably a thousand kids that age or younger,” Scarmardo said. “We’ve never even handed out a Band-Aid.”
Scarmardo said the death of Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, was an aberration and a tragic accident. He said Vacca was a longtime member of the military who was serving in the Army Reserve at the time of his death.
“We miss him, not only as an associate but as a good friend. He’s almost like a brother,” Scarmardo said.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said Vacca was supervising when the girl first fired a 9 mm Uzi in “single shot” mode at the range Monday about 10 a.m. Sheriff Jim McCabe said the weapon was switched to the “fully automatic” mode and the girl accidentally shot Vacca in the head as the gun recoiled and drifted left toward the instructor as it fired an undetermined amount of times.
Vacca died at University Medical Center in Las Vegas about 11 hours after the shooting. An autopsy will be conducted by the Clark County coroner’s office.
The names of the girl and her parents have been withheld. The New Jersey family was on vacation when they visited the shooting range. The parents were videotaping when the shooting occurred.
The sheriff’s office released the initial portion of the video showing Vacca instructing the girl at the range.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Trish Carter said the department has been inundated with news media as the story has attracted international attention.
Scarmardo said he’s well aware that the story has generated comment on gun issues on social media Internet sites.
“I’ve seen the hate mail,” Scarmardo said. “They’re the ones that are sitting downstairs in their mom’s basement with their fuzzy slippers and bathrobe and dirty underwear … because they just hate everything so much. The only thing they can do is hate everybody.”
Scarmardo told The Associated Press that his policy of allowing children 8 and older to fire guns under adult supervision and the watchful eye of an instructor is standard practice for the industry.
He said his policy is under review and that he has reached out to the National Association of Shooting Ranges for information involving age-appropriate involvement on ranges.
At the Clark County Shooting Complex in Southern Nevada, young children under adult supervision are allowed.
However, the rules for anyone using a class 3 firearm — the group that includes a 9 mm Uzi — appear to be more stringent than in the Arizona range. The Clark County facility requires a class 3 firearm to be mounted on a tripod or secured to the bench for safety reasons, complex manager Steve Carmichael said.
In the video of the girl shooting the Uzi, the gun didn’t appear to be mounted.
Under Nevada state law, if parents sign a waiver, a child who is 14 or older can shoot at a public range without bringing a parent or other adult to watch over them. Carmichael stressed that children in those cases are still under supervision of complex staff.
Children who are younger than 14 can use the county complex, provided they bring an adult to supervise them. Youngsters who are 7 and 8 years old have used the complex, he said. No one younger than 5 is allowed on the firing line, Carmichael said.
Usually a young shooter’s first experience is a .22-caliber rifle, which doesn’t have the recoil of an Uzi, Carmichael said.
Carter said the Arizona incident will be investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that the federal Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms might also review the matter. Scarmardo said he has had contact only with the Sheriff’s Office so far.
Sheriff Jim McCabe said no citations will be issued and there will be no charges because the facility is a licensed and legal operation.
Deputy Mohave County Attorney Jace Zack said his office will eventually review incident reports, standard procedure in accidental shooting deaths.
The Burgers and Bullets enterprise was the subject of noise complaints and public safety concerns that Lance Krig brought to the attention of Mohave County officials more than two years ago. Krig sought a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief in a lawsuit he filed in Superior Court in early 2012.
Court pleadings reveal that besides noise, Krig complained about danger the business presented to the nearby Triangle Airpark airstrip and said he felt like he was taking machine gun fire when walking his dog near the range. The court dismissed the lawsuit in April of this year, ruling that he failed to meet burdens of proof required for legal intervention.
Monday’s incident isn’t the first accidental shooting by a child using an Uzi. An 8-year-old boy died after shooting himself in the head at a gun expo near Springfield, Mass., in 2008. Christopher Bizilj was firing at pumpkins when the Uzi kicked back.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.