My Thoughts on the Arizona Uzi Tragedy

There has been a lot of coverage in the past 72 hours or so of the accidental shooting that took place in Arizona a few days ago. I try to let the dust settle on these sorts of things before I offer my full opinion. Social media has been full of the usual hyperbole on both sides of the issue and most folks seem to be letting their keyboards outrun their brains. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

-This is a tragedy and yes, it can happen to you.

               A good man is dead and an innocent little girl is traumatized after what should have been a fun day at the range. We should all be praying for the people involved before taking the opportunity to get up on a soap box. Any instructor or serious shooter worth his or her salt is going to have an instantly high level of frustration when this sort of preventable tragedy occurs, but we shouldn’t let that cause us to be belligerent in the way we present our opinions. I don’t care what your background is, how many years you have been calling yourself an instructor, or who certified you; accidents can happen with guns even when all of the appropriate risk mitigation is in place. Any human being is capable of making a mistake and when we are dealing with firearms, those mistakes can be fatal. No instructor or individual shooter is immune to this inherent danger and none of us should be aloof or dismissive when analyzing this sort of tragedy. Complacency kills, and some of the “good job, dumbass” type posts I’ve seen about this tragedy betray a level of complacency that can prove to be dangerous. You have to be constantly vigilant about safety and believing that you are too squared away to ever invite this sort of disaster is not a good way to carry yourself.

-Yes, serious mistakes were made and we should all learn from them.

               It is not enough to look at this sort of incident and simply say “It’s just a tragedy”. Every tragedy has a cause and when something as serious as this incident occurs, it is our duty as shooters who care about safety to articulate how it can be prevented. I don’t see how it is disrespectful or inappropriate to make an attempt to learn from someone’s tragic death with the goal of preventing anyone else from meeting their fate. That being said, this can be done professionally without impugning the character of the instructor in question. None of us knew the guy, but we do know what took place in this incident, and we should leave it at that.

-“The expected benefit should always outweigh known and perceived risks”

               This is a rule we use in the Combat Focus Shooting program that I think is the forefront of what went wrong here. Fully automatic weapons of any type are inherently difficult for even some experienced shooters to control. Handheld models such as the Uzi where there is no stock to allow for more recoil control are especially quirky if you don’t know what to expect. Giving such a weapon to a 9 year old girl after minimal instruction is obviously extremely risky. This being the case, the expected benefit of shooting the Uzi would have to be something way more profound than “have some fun” or “get a youtube video” in order to meet the standard above. I personally can’t see a way to get to that point and I can’t think of a situation off the top of my head where putting this particular weapon in the hands of a novice shooter would be a good idea. There are several other automatic rifles that would be a better choice for a novice shooter if simply “having fun” is the goal.

-Safety is the instructor’s responsibility, and this instructor did not meet that responsibility

               There was no one but the instructor in a position to do anything to mitigate risk in this situation and he paid the price for his own mistakes. It can be clearly seen that the shooter was put into a bladed stance with her arms bent. This is a terrible stance for recoil management even with a semi-auto pistol, much less an Uzi. Physics is what it is and the results of firing a weapon in that stance with that grip and extension are predictable. Clearly the instructor did not understand this or he would have put the shooter into an appropriate stance (square to the target, center of gravity forward, arms extended). The instructor himself was also not in a position to be able to intervene and take control of the weapon. He was standing to the rear of the shooter off to her weak side, looking downrange, with only a hand on her body for support. When the shooter lost control during recoil, all he could do was hope his reflexes were fast enough to dodge. He should have been on the shooter’s strong side, perpendicular, and intently focused on the shooter and ready to take control of the weapon. In this situation it would have been good for him to actually have a grip on the top of the weapon to prevent it from doing what it did. This instructor clearly had a level of ignorance about what the weapon was capable of and he didn’t meet his ultimate responsibility for safety because of this obvious ignorance. What I saw in this video was about the level of instruction that I usually see at public ranges that makes me cringe. It is far too commonplace and it just goes to show how important education is.

               In the words of Forrest Gump: that’s all I have to say about that. It was a terrible, preventable tragedy and I hope we can learn from it and do our best to make sure these incidents stay as rare as they are. For more in-depth commentary from industry stalwart Claude Werner during his recent CNN interview click here.

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