Katy Burns: Locked and loaded – and only 9 years old
The image on the cell phone video is both searing and surreal. A little girl in a white shirt and pink shorts, her thick dark braid bouncing on her back, stands before a target with an Uzi – a fully automatic submachine gun – in her small hands. Hovering over her is an adult man, guiding her hands into place on the weapon.
As we all know – the video has been everywhere – things go terribly wrong.
The man is a shooting instructor at the bizarrely named Bullets and Burgers, part of an Arizona shooting range called Last Stop. He is dead, shot in the head by the girl when she couldn’t control the rapid recoil of the gun.
The child, a diminutive 9-year-old, will carry the image and memory of that horrifying moment for the rest of her life.
Her parents – who took that video and who gave their daughter permission to shoot – will be equally haunted by what their poor judgment has caused.
It’s heartbreakingly tragic.
And it’s totally insane.
There is no excuse – none – for putting a powerful weapon like that Uzi, in full-automatic mode, into the hands of that child.
I fully accept that the battle in this country for some sort of meaningful control over the proliferation of lethal weapons of increasing firepower is lost.
If nothing could be done in the aftermath of the slaughter of first-graders in Sandy Hook – even with overwhelming public support for stronger laws – we have, as a nation represented by cowardly lawmakers, surrendered completely to the NRA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the nation’s gun manufacturers.
But surely there are some things connected with firearms that we can all agree on. One is the fact that young children and weapons designed solely to kill (and to kill many quickly) are completely incompatible. Aren’t they? We will draw the line, right?
In a sane world, yes. But in our world, no.
The owner of the shooting range, one Sam Scarmardo, thought it was perfectly fine that a child would be allowed to wield an automatic weapon. After all, she wanted to!
“This is a very mature young lady, and this was something she wanted to do,” he earnestly explained in a TV interview. “Her parents were treating her.”
Oh? And if she’d wanted to, would her parents “treat” her to a ride to the Brooklyn Bridge so she could practice her diving skills? And would Scarmardo approve of that?
Scarmardo, who was all over the tube in the aftermath of the disastrous shooting, was appropriately horrified at the loss of life. He said he’d “been praying for that girl. . . . It’s something she did. My heart goes out to her.”
Something she did? It’s her fault?
She is 9 years old. Only perhaps in the backward corners of the world where marriages to prepubescent girls are condoned would a 9-year-old be considered “a very mature young lady.” The child could not have owned that gun herself. She could not have had a drink, she could not have voted, she could not have driven a car. She could not have seen an R-rated movie, for heaven’s sake. Way too much violence, they say.
And in recent years, an explosion of research into the development of brain functions has led scientists to conclude that even in late adolescence children are still not thinking and functioning with the judgment of adults.
But, said Scarmardo of the unfortunate child in question, “this was something high on her bucket list of things to do.” Bucket list? Nine-year-olds do not have bucket lists. They are children.
But no matter. Gun enthusiasts will say this is an aberration and talk wistfully about how they learned to shoot at their daddy’s knees, ignoring the fact that daddy likely – unless he was a 1920s-era gangster – didn’t have a submachine gun.
Gun tourism – and that’s what it’s apparently called, traipsing over the country to shoot the biggest and baddest weapons – is a booming business in the good old U.S. of A. People flock to these “resorts” where ordinary folks can shoot off everything up to and including grenade launchers.
These gun playgrounds are said to be particularly big attractions for visitors from other countries, especially those with sane gun laws.
One report I read called it all “good family entertainment.” And reviewers of Bullets and Burgers on TripAdvisor love the burgers (“Amazing!” “Best ever!”). Well, there you go! What more could one want?
We are righteously horrified now, of course, but the outrage will die. After all, it died when, in a similar incident in 2008 at a gun range in Massachusetts, an 8-year-old killed himself with another Uzi.
And gun tourism – isn’t that an odious phrase? – will continue as well.
On Thursday, I caught an interview with an earnest spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense. “We hope this will start a national dialogue on guns,” she said.
Fat chance. We hear this “national dialogue” stuff every time there’s a horrific gun disaster. Just as we do after every serious racially fraught incident. Our national Untouchable Topics.
But – unless it’s on a topic like the quality of Super Bowl ads or whether the Kardashians are a just a little overexposed – we don’t do national dialogues. They’re downright un-American.
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)