While the National Rifle Association has been conspicuously silent on a gun accident at an Arizona shooting range that left an instructor dead, the NRA's media arm -- NRA News -- criticized the “great deal of exploitative coverage” and dismissed those who believe a “larger lesson” can be drawn from the tragedy.
On August 25 a 9-year-old girl firing a fully automatic Uzi submachine gun at an Arizona gun range lost control of the weapon, leading to the fatal shooting of a range instructor. The accident quickly became national news and touched off debate over the appropriateness of letting children handle automatic weapons. The latest developments indicate that the child complained about the Uzi's recoil and indicated the weapon was “too much” for her moments after the fatal accident.
On the August 29 edition of the NRA News show Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards acknowledged that “as a media person” he understands why the accident has garnered so much attention, but also claimed “anti-gun advocates in the media” were using the story to try to prevent children from learning about firearms.
The NRA does not like it when high-profile incidents of gun violence make national headlines. The group recently warned supporters of the media “trick” of using the word “shooting” to describe mass shooting incidents, following a mass killing in Isla Vista, California. After a 2013 incident where a 2-year-old girl was accidentally killed by her 5-year-old brother with a child-sized rifle made national headlines, Edwards criticized the “mass media,” claiming they were covering the story as part of a “campaign of shame” and “wanted to make a point that this is what happens in Bumpkinville.”
During his commentary on the Uzi accident, Edwards also sought to highlight “the rarity of these types of incidents,” pointing out that it has been six years since media coverage has focused on an accident involving a child and an Uzi. Indeed, in 2008 an eight-year-old boy fatally shot himself after losing control of the automatic Uzi he was firing.
But accidents involving guns and children are far from uncommon, and are much more likely to occur in the United States compared to other high-income nations. According to a Mother Jones investigation, in the year following the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, at least 84 children aged 12 and younger died in gun accidents. In 72 of those cases a child or teenager fired the fatal round. According to a 2014 study in Pediatrics, 662 children aged 14 and under visited emergency rooms in 2009 after being accidentally shot.
Edwards also used a straw man argument to attack those who say we should “draw a larger lesson” from the accident, claiming that gun safety advocates and members of the media are using the incident to say “this is why no child should ever be allowed any access to a firearm” and “this demonstrates why no child should ever learn anything at all about firearms.” By contrast Edwards praised “some very thoughtful columns” that “cautioned against drawing the sort of overbroad conclusions that we have seen here.”
But as numerous media articles demonstrate, the mainstream debate in the fallout of the accident is not whether children should access guns at all, but whether they should be able to access the type of firepower found in an Uzi submachinegun. There is no federal law regulating the use of automatic weapons by children, and only some states have laws regulating what types of firearms children can shoot.
Edwards, however, argued, “I've seen these proposals, well we need to ban people under the age of 'x' from shooting a gun, or we need to ban people under the age of 'x' from shooting a Class III firearm. I just -- I don't think you can make that one size fits all policy.” Class III firearms are those regulated by the National Firearms Act and include fully automatic machineguns like the Uzi involved in the accident, short barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers.
Edwards also said that he would not “spend too much time talking about” the accident because of “exploitative writing and commentary” by the media “when at the end of the day, what we are talking about is a tragic accident.”