The recent tragedy of a 9 year-old girl accidentally killing a supposed instructor with a Mini-Uzi  raises many issues, including the proper firearms and methods for introducing young children to shooting. Fortunately, the family of the man who died, 39 year-old Charles Vacca, have been understanding and forgiving, and in truth, it was not the fault of the 9 year-old. She and her family will have to live with a trauma to which they should never have been exposed.

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Mini Uzi

By all means, take the link and view the short video, shot by the girl’s relatives. The very rapid cyclic rate of the Mini Uzi is plainly audible, and a significant contributing factor to the tragedy. So, apparently was Vacca’s lack of instructor credentials and experience, as noted in the article at the link.

Comments relating to this incident on Bearing Arms and elsewhere make clear that few people understand machineguns—and submachine guns in particular—and their proper employment. In the hope of correcting that lack of general knowledge to at least some degree, I present this brief submachine gun primer.

As to my background to discourse on this subject, regular readers know of my general firearms, military and police background. Those experiences, as well as an intense but not obsessive interest in firearms have allowed me many opportunities to study, fire, and above all, to clean, and examine many of the submachine gun designs currently on the market. I’ve also a reasonable amount of practical experience with common general purpose (AKA medium), and a few heavy machine guns. I also hold an instructor’s certification for submachine gun from the American Small Arms Academy.

Keep in mind from the outset that most of what the public thinks it knows about submachine guns from TV and the movies is wrong, dangerous, and grossly ineffective. Unlike the shoot from the hip and spray and pray methods Hollywood favors, and unlike the unlimited magazine capacity full-auto shoot fests often portrayed on the silver screen, submachine guns are most effective when fired from the shoulder, when the sights are used, and when fired in two to three rounds bursts. There are potential uses for extended fully automatic fire, but they are relatively uncommon, particularly in police work.

Fully automatic weapons, including electrically driven miniguns, may be owned by individuals, but not without substantial restrictions and bother. Americans tend to have little personal submachine gun experience because in 1986, Democrats, through legislative chicanery, added a ban on all machine guns to the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act.  Only those weapons legally possessed and registered with the federal government prior to May 19, 1986 are still lawful.  This means that no citizen may own or transfer a machinegun of any kind manufactured after May 19, 1986 (18 USC 921 ).  Law enforcement may, of course, purchase new weapons.  As one might imagine, this has created a seller’s market.

Submachine guns may be generally understood to be relatively compact, short-barreled, shoulder fired small arms firing pistol cartridges, and capable of semi and full automatic fire. There are various subcategories and variants of this description. Some weapons add burst capability, or substitute it in place of fully automatic capability, and there are even a few fully automatic pistols, such as the Glock 18–which looks nearly identical to the Glock 17, and the Beretta 93R.

Beretta 93R
Beretta 93R

Because they fire pistol cartridges—most commonly the 9mm and .45 ACP—and because they generally have short sight radiuses and short barrels, effective submachine gun range is usually considered to be no more than 100 yards, and optimum employment is at common pistol ranges. Obviously, various red dot or laser sights may be helpful with submachine guns, as they are with many firearms, but most submachine guns, particularly first and second generation models, were not designed to be equipped with this sort of accessory.

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