playground 2

Two girls, an Uzi, and a playground


That’s the name of the gun range (and burger joint) where firearms instructor Charles Vacca handed a 9-year-old girl an Uzi to shoot. When it was on manual, she had no problems handling the gun, which was originally designed for the Israeli army.

When he made the gun fully automatic, however, the gun was too much for the 9-year-old to handle and she accidentally shot Vacco to death.

Her parents, who had taken her to Bullets and Burgers as part of their vacation from New Jersey, got to take her home.

One month earlier, Debra Harrell, a single mother from South Carolina, left her 9-year-old daughter in a park near the McDonalds where Harrell worked.

The results were vastly different.

The criminal injustice system

Harrell’s daughter had usually spent time using her computer at the McDonalds while her mother worked. But when the house was broken into and the computer stolen, Harrell’s daughter asked her mom if she could go to the park to play with the other kids while she worked. Her mom gave her a cell phone and the girl went out to play.

The child was fine for the first two days. But when an adult asked Harrell’s daughter where her mother was, and she responded with “at work,” the person called the police, the police declared the girl “abandoned,” and Harrell spent 17 days in jail. She was charged with felony child neglect, her child was temporarily taken away, and she still faces the prospect of spending 10 years in jail if she’s convicted.

While both of these stories are tragic, what stands out to me is how the law looked at both of these sets of parents.

One set of parents got to take their kid home and face no charges at all.

The other is looking at 10 years in jail.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

The truth about kids and guns

Now I understand that there are parents out there that want their kids to feel comfortable around firearms. I’ve lived in places where the first day of Hunting Season is a day off from school and everyone has an “I’m the NRA” sticker on their car. It’s your choice if you want to teach your kid how to be comfortable around a firearm.

But there is no universe that I’d ever want to visit where it makes sense to hand a 9-year-old an Uzi. I dated a guy who had one, and when he handed me that thing, I was terrified.

I was in my 20s.

Yet, the parents of the 9-year-old who accidentally killed her gun instructor with an Uzi got to take her home. And Harrell, who let her kid play in the park while she worked, had her child taken away.

If you’re rich enough to take your kid on a vacation that includes a trip to a shooting range to fire an Uzi, then you’re probably not all that worried about childcare.

But when you’re a single mom trying to support a child on a Shift Manager’s salary at McDonalds, childcare even at the lowest price is expensive because you need every dollar to keep a roof over your head and non-McDonalds food on the table.

Because of this, you’re forced to make choices that people may not understand, like letting your kid go out into a park to play while you work.

The disparity in how these two cases involving 9-year-old girls were handled makes me wonder if the message we’re sending as a country is that Harrell might not be looking at 10 years in jail had she chosen to take her child to a gun range instead of a park.

And if that is the message we’re sending, we’re in worse shape as a country than we might want to admit.

denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist and adjunct professor. She is active in the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.


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