Matthews on Arizona Gun Range Tragedy: ‘This Is Where You Get When You Go All the Way With Gun Rights’

Chris Matthews devoted a segment during his MSNBC show Hardball on Wednesday evening to the tragic shooting death of a firearms instructor at a Arizona gun range after a nine-year-old girl accidently shot him with an Uzi submachine gun. Instead of discussing how tragic this incident was or possible safety measures to take in the future, Matthews and his guests chose to rail against the National Rifle Association (NRA) for somehow being connected to this terrible incident.

At the conclusion of the six-and-a-half-minute segment, Matthews shamefully declared: “This is the slippery slope, what we're watching. This is where you get when you go all the way with gun rights. All the way is what it looks like – take a look at that girl. That's a slippery slope to hell.” [MP3 audio here; Video below]

Speaking with Paul Helmke, who is a former president of the Brady Campaign, and Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the three took turns bashing the NRA for not taking a stand against gun violence and asking the organization to join them in passing legislation privy to their cause.

In a tease to this segment earlier in the show, the host of Hardball wondered: “[W]here is the NRA right now? Can’t you hear their not saying anything? I wonder why. They must be embarrassed in their awful silence.”

After complaining about the NRA both then and during the segment with Helmke and Watts, Matthews would be intrigued to learn that the NRA did respond to one media request regarding what happened as they informed CBS News that the instructor killed, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, was not a certified NRA instructor or an NRA member. 

Instead, Matthews found time to specifically go after NRA members themselves: 

You know, I don't believe everybody's guilty who has a different opinion than I do. I don't believe people are sinful or illegal, but I think that people are members of the NRA have a unique ability because they're members and gun owners to call up the head of the NRA or write a letter, or tweet or whatever the hell the way you got a way to communicate and send a message. A little restriction for common sense would not be the enemy of the gun owner, it would be the friend of the gun owner. A little bit of restraint for common sense...

While Matthews and the two panelists sympathetic to his cause tried to connect the inability of the gun control lobby to advance their agenda with the tragedy at the range known as Bullets and Burgers, the major broadcast networks did their part in showing examples of responsible gun range owners as well as safer positions for instructors to take when teaching someone how to use a firearm. 

On the CBS Evening News, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone showed video of another instructor at the same gun range who was “hovering with his hand on the shoulder of a young shooter standing on the same side as the gun and ready to push it out of the way” as opposed to where Vacca was standing at the time of incident, which was next to the girl with “his hand on the girl's back, not on her shoulder, and standing on the side opposite the Uzi.” 

Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News aired comments from NBC News chief law enforcement analyst Jim Cavanaugh who said that: “A nine-year-old child, any small child, should not be expected to be able to control a submachine gun,” but did not view “this as a cry for more regulation or new law, rather – some common sense.” Cavanaugh suggested that gun ranges, as “people that love shooting sports,” should see the “need to tighten this up themselves.”

In addition, NBC News correspondent Joe Fryer included thoughts from Tactical Firearms CEO Jeremy Aclede, who is teaching his ten-year-old son to use, respect, and never use firearms when Dad is not around. Aclede said that he’s teaching his son gun safety and respect for them now “[b]ecause kids turn into adults and if you don't train them at an early age, they're not going to respect it” and in turn “[t]hey're not going to be safe around it.”


The relevant portions of the transcript from MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on August 27 is transcribed below.

MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews

August 27, 2014

7:12:46 p.m.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: And horror at the gun range. A nine-year-old girl firing a Uzi, that's an automatic rifle, accidentally killed her instructor after she lost control of the rifle. Wait until you see the pictures. Why was this little girl allowed to use such a powerful weapon? And where is the NRA right now? Can’t you hear their not saying anything? I wonder why. They must be embarrassed in their awful silence. 

(....)

MATTHEWS: Well, the NRA used to say, they still do it that guns don't kill people, people do, but in this case, the gun did it. Paul, that gun was out of control, that young person holding the gun couldn't control gun. She wasn't aiming it at the instructor. Obviously, she was trying to keep control of it physically. The gun did it and how that gun got in her hands is the question of gun control and gun safety – how it got in her hands.

HELMKE: The gun did it, we need to regulate this, we can't keep having this conversation. This position from the NRA that you can't do anything about guns. When I was mayor of Fort Wayne, I went to the range, I’ve shot a fully automatic weapon, it has a huge recoil. There's no way a nine-year-old should be having these weapons. I learned how to shoot a .22 when I was in sixth grade. I went to the firing ranges, they should not have brought a weapon like this to a young person and, like I said, accident happen – 

MATTHEWS: Where's the NRA?

HELMKE: The NRA is doing the same –

MATTHEWS: can they just go silent on this? I mean, seriously? They have not said a word and we have checked it out. When the producers here – the senior producers – called up the office of public affairs, they did it all the right way, nada. Silencio. 

HELMKE: This is their strategy, after any shooting, after any high profile incident, they'll move on and going to keep their mouths shut and they are going to count on the American people and the news media to move on to something else and in the next day and the next week and then the discussion will be gone. That is their strategy. They did it after Sandy Hook, they did it after Tucson, they did it after Virginia Tech, they do it every time, because they don't want to have a serious conversation about what we can do to stop gun violence in this country. 

MATTHEWS: Shannon, what do you make of the no comment from the NRA? 

WATTS: Well, you know, they're out of step, even with their own members. 74% of whom support things like background checks. They’re out of step with the American public. It is time for NRA to realize, their leaders to realize that Americans believe that with rights come responsibilities, and, you know, we're not turning back on this, and they're going to have to come to the middle and have discussions with us and this would be the perfect opportunity to start that conversation. 

MATTHEWS: You know, I don't believe everybody's guilty who has a different opinion than I do. I don't believe people are sinful or illegal, but I think that people are members of the NRA, have a unique ability because they're members and gun owners to call up the head of the NRA or write a letter, or tweet or whatever the hell the way you got a way to communicate and send a message. A little restriction for common sense would not be the enemy of the gun owner, it would be the friend of the gun owner. A little bit of restraint for common sense and, Paul, do we ever see that any more? I think years ago, I thought there was more restraint by the NRA than there is now. Your thoughts?

HELMKE: Well, the NRA used to be all about gun safety, about educating people. I got my NRA marksmanship badge again when I was in grade school, my marksmanship badge, but then they became political and they are afraid to concede on any issue. About the only time they – they’ll sometimes talk about mental health issues like they did after Virginia Tech, but basically, they want to take an extreme position, they don't want to have any compromise, and they need to hear from their members and they need to hear from the elected officials who say, come on. You know, this is not about gun rights any more, this is not about the Second Amendment, we can have some common sense restrictions, you can still have your guns, but nine-year-olds should not be getting their hands on Uzis. This makes no sense. 

MATTHEWS: I have a message for Paul and Shannon. This is the slippery slope, what we're watching. This is where you get when you go all the way with gun rights. All the way is what it looks like – take a look at that girl. That's a slippery slope to hell. Thank you Paul Helmke. Thank you ja – Shannon Watts. We'll be right back.

The relevant portion of transcript from the segment on the tragedy on August 27's CBS Evening News is transcribed below.

CBS Evening News

August 27, 2014

6:37 p.m. Eastern

JOHN BLACKSTONE: Another video does show an employ hovering with his hand on the shoulder of a young shooter standing on the same side as the gun and ready to push it out of the way. 

UNIDENTIFIED BULLETS AND BURGERS EMPLOYEE: Keep it firm on your shoulder like that. Alright, go. 

BLACKSTONE: The video of Vacca shows his hand on the girl's back, not on her shoulder, and standing on the side opposite the Uzi. There is no requirement in Arizona for gun range employees to be certified as firearms instructors and, Maurice, the National Rifle Association tells us that Charles Vacca was not an NRA-certified instructor. 

The relevant portion of the transcript from the segment on the shooting tragedy at the Arizona gun range that aired on NBC Nightly News on August 27 can be found below.

NBC Nightly News

August 27, 2014

7:10 p.m. Eastern

JOE FRYER: The shooting range's manager calls what happened a pure accident. The policy at his business allows kids eight and older to fire guns, including high powered ones with adult and instructor supervision. Nationwide, the NRA says nearly 1 million youth are taking part in shooting sports events and affiliated programs. In several states, including Arizona, it's legal for juveniles to fire guns of all types at shooting ranges if an adult or instructor is present. 

JIM CAVANAUGH, NBC NEWS LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: A nine-year-old child, any small child, should not be expected to be able to control a submachine gun. 

FRYER: Critics question why someone that’s so young should be allowed to shoot a gun that's so powerful. 

CAVANAUGH: I don't see this as a cry for more regulation or new law, rather – some common sense. In gun ranges, people that love shooting sports, they need to tighten this up themselves. 

FRYER: At Tactical Firearms in Texas, CEO Jeremy Alcede is teaching his 10-year-old son to shoot all kinds of guns, including high power ones, telling him never to handle a firearm unless Dad is present. 

JEREMY ALCEDE: Because kids turn into adults and if you don't train them at an early age, they're not going to respect it. They're not going to be safe around it. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division