WHITE HILLS, Ariz. — The four-hour tours offered by one of the big gun ranges here are a popular tourist attraction: Starting at $200 a person, a bus will pick up visitors at their hotel in Las Vegas, 25 miles to the north, show them Hoover Dam and bring them to a recreational shooting range called Last Stop, where they can fire the weapons of their dreams: automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers. A hamburger lunch is included; a helicopter tour of the nearby Grand Canyon is optional.
But on Monday, one family's adventure went horribly wrong: A 9-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi submachine gun while he stood to her side, trying to guide her. A video of the shooting, which her parents recorded by cellphone, suggests that the girl, in pink shorts and with a braided ponytail, was unable to control the gun's recoil; the instructor, Charles Vacca, 39, was rushed to a hospital in Las Vegas, where he died Monday night.
The parents turned the cellphone video over to the sheriff's department, which released it publicly. The images of a small girl losing control of a powerful war weapon during a family vacation created a worldwide spectacle, prompting some commentators to castigate parents who would put a submachine gun in the hands of a child.
"What in the name of Jesus is wrong with us, Americans?" one person wrote on the TripAdvisor page for Bullets and Burgers, the tour company that brings people to Last Stop, amid other reviewers who raved about the great time they had firing guns there. "Automatic weapons as toys? And now a man is dead, for no reason, and a 9-year-old girl is scarred for life."
Some gun owners took to Twitter to defend the practice. But even the owner of the Last Stop, Sam Scarmardo, said he would reconsider the practice in light of Monday's accident.
"In the last 14 years, we've probably had 100,000 people shoot 5 million rounds of ammunition, and of those, a thousand to two thousand of them were children. We've never given out a Band-Aid — no one's never even got a scratch."