LAS VEGAS (AP) — The death of an Arizona firearms instructor by a 9-year-old girl who was firing a fully automatic Uzi displayed a tragic side of what has become a hot industry in the U.S.: gun tourism.
With gun laws keeping high-powered weapons out of reach for most people — especially those outside the U.S. — indoor shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a popular attraction.
Tourists from Japan flock to ranges in Waikiki, Hawaii, and the dozen or so that have cropped up in Las Vegas offer bullet-riddled bachelor parties and literal shotgun weddings, where newly married couples can fire submachine gun rounds and pose with Uzis and ammo belts.
"People just want to experience things they can't experience elsewhere," said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. "There's not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun."
The accidental shooting death of the firing-range instructor in Arizona set off a powerful debate over youngsters and guns, with many people wondering what sort of parents would let a child handle a submachine gun.
Instructor Charles Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl Monday at the Last Stop range in White Hills, Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, when she squeezed the trigger. The recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head.
Prosecutors say they will not file charges in the case. The identities of the girl and her family have not been released.
The dusty outdoor range calls itself the Bullets and Burgers Adventure and touts its "Desert Storm atmosphere."
Similar attractions have been around since the 1980s in Las Vegas, although the city has experienced a boom of such businesses in the past few years. Excitement over guns tends to spike when there's fear of tighter gun restrictions, according to Dan Sessions, general manager of Discount Firearms and Ammo, which houses the Vegas Machine Gun Experience.
There's also the prohibitive cost of owning an automatic weapon — an M5 might go for $25,000, while a chance to gun down zombie targets with an AR-15 and three other weapons costs less than $200.
"It's an opportunity that people may not come across again in their lifetime," Sessions said.
Tourists from Australia, Europe or Asia, where civilians are barred from many types of guns, long to indulge in the quintessentially American right to bear arms.
"People have a fascination with guns," said Cohen, who is from New Zealand and estimates about 90 percent of his customers are tourists. "They see guns as a big part of American culture, and they want to experience American culture."
The businesses cast a lighthearted spin on their shooting experiences, staging weddings in their ranges and selling souvenir T-shirts full of bullet holes.
But behind the bravado, owners acknowledge they are one errant movement away from tragedy. Cohen's business, for example, is installing a tethering system that will prevent machine guns from riding upward after firing — the same motion that killed the gun instructor this week.
"Guns are designed to cause damage, and if they're mishandled, they'll do exactly that," said Bob Irwin, owner of The Gun Store, the original Las Vegas machine gun attraction. "They have to be respected."
Sam Scarmardo, who operates the outdoor range in Arizona where the instructor was killed, said Wednesday that the parents had signed waivers saying they understood the rules and were standing nearby, video-recording their daughter, when the accident happened.
"I have regret we let this child shoot, and I have regret that Charlie was killed in the incident," Scarmardo said. He said he doesn't know what went wrong, pointing out that Vacca was an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jace Zack, chief deputy for the Mohave County Attorney's Office, said the instructor was probably the most criminally negligent person involved in the accident for having allowed the child to hold the gun without enough training.
"The parents aren't culpable," Zack said. "They trusted the instructor to know what he was doing, and the girl could not possibly have comprehended the potential dangers involved."
Still, the accident has raised questions about whether children that young should be handling such powerful weapons.
"We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park," said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence. Referring to the girl's parents, Hills said: "I just don't see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi."
In 2008, an 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun expo near Springfield, Massachusetts. Christopher Bizilj was firing at pumpkins when the gun kicked back. A former Massachusetts police chief whose company co-sponsored the gun show was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Dave Workman, senior editor at thegunmag.com and a spokesman for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said it can be safe to let children shoot an automatic weapon if a properly trained adult is helping them hold it.
After viewing the video of the Arizona shooting, Workman said Vacca appeared to have tried to help the girl maintain control by placing his left hand under the weapon. But automatic weapons tend to recoil upward, he noted.
"If it was the first time she'd ever handled a full-auto firearm, it's a big surprise when that gun continues to go off," said Workman, a firearms instructor for 30 years. "I've even seen adults stunned by it."
Scarmardo said his policy of allowing children 8 and older to fire guns under adult supervision and the watchful eye of an instructor is standard practice in the industry. The range's policies are under review, he said.
Associated Press Writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report from Seattle.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus.
The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. Beginning Tuesday, it will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.
Even though NIH has been testing other Ebola vaccines in people since 2003, this is a first for this vaccine and its trial has been speeded up because the outbreak in West Africa "is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID.
This isn't a treatment for the disease, but a hoped-for preventative measure. Fauci said the vaccine cannot cause Ebola in the volunteers being tested.
He cautioned that there is no guarantee it will work: "I have been fooled enough in my many years of experience."
Fauci doesn't expect results from this initial round of testing until the end of the year, emphasizing that public health measures such as quarantine, isolation, infection control and personal protective devices are still the best way to fight the outbreak that so far has killed at least 1,552 people in West Africa.
The World Health Organization Thursday estimated that the death toll could eventually exceed 20,000, while announcing new efforts to fight what Fauci called the "rapidly evolving and currently uncontrolled outbreak."
The major target of the vaccine, if it works, would be health care workers, although residents of the area could also be eligible for the shots, Fauci said. More than 240 health workers have become infected in this outbreak, and more than 120 have died, he said.
If it works, people would get one shot in the arm to protect them from an immediate threat and eventually a second shot for longer-term immunity, Fauci said.
Testing will be at NIH's campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and involve a mixture that uses both the current Zaire strain and another strain, Sudan. In the second week of September, NIH and a British team will test that vaccine on 100 volunteers in the United Kingdom; tests will commence in Gambia and Mali in the middle of the month. American health officials are also talking about a future trial in Nigeria.
Then a different version of the vaccine, using only the Zaire strain, will be tested on another 20 adults in October at NIH and elsewhere in the United States.
Also sometime in fall, Canadian and U.S. health officials will start safety testing a different type of Ebola vaccine developed by NewLink Genetics Corp. of Ames, Iowa.
The U.S. vaccine takes a single protein from the Ebola virus and pairs it with a chimpanzee cold virus to help as a delivery system. Past vaccines have the used the same protein but different delivery systems.
Usually, the second stage of drug trials involve testing on larger numbers of people before it goes into final testing.
A British consortium has pledged $4.6 million to help speed up the vaccine tests. With some of that money, GlaxoSmithKline will be able to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the U.S. vaccine, if the tests are successful. The 10,000 doses will be ready by the end of the year and if needed, production can be ramped up for stockpiling, GSK spokeswoman Sarah Alspach said.
This testing "is exactly what needs to be done," said Pardis Sabeti, a Harvard University professor who has been studying Ebola and was in Africa working the outbreak.
WINSLOW, Ariz. (AP) — A dusty, barren field in the shadow of a busy Arizona interstate was for decades a place where children played freely, teenagers spooked themselves on Halloween and locals dumped trash, seemingly unaware of the history beneath them.
Inside cotton sacks, burlap bags and blankets buried in the ground are the remains of stillborn babies, tuberculosis patients, and sick and malnourished Native Americans from Winslow and the nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations.
It's hard, if not impossible, to know where each grave, some just 18 inches deep, is located at the Winslow Indian Cemetery. The aluminum plates and crosses that once marked them were trampled on, washed away or carried off.
It was no place to mourn, thought local historical preservationist Gail Sadler, before she made it her mission to unearth the identities of the roughly 600 people buried there and help their descendants reconnect with their history.
"If anyone is searching for family, I don't want these little ones to be lost," said the soft-spoken child welfare worker.
What she learned, however, was that not everyone wanted to reconnect.
Her Mormon belief about the value of knowing one's ancestry suddenly came up against traditional Navajo beliefs about death as something one rarely discusses, and Navajo and Hopi tradition about not visiting burial sites.
Some warned her that she risked inviting evil spirits if she continued her pursuit of the dead.
Sadler, 58, said she was both heartbroken — and appalled — at the condition of the cemetery when she first laid eyes on it in 2008, soon after she had been appointed to the Winslow Historic Preservation Commission.
On her first visit, she climbed through a barbed wire fence and found liquor bottles, roofing shingles and a washing machine. She wondered if a hole in the corner meant someone was trying to dig a fresh grave or dig up an old one.
She said she was moved by a "sweet spirit" and a desire restore respect and dignity to the burial ground, with a better security fence and a monument. "It just struck me that it was going to need a champion or nothing would be done," she said.
The cemetery was an afterthought in Winslow, a railroad city on the edge of the Navajo and Hopi reservations that was immortalized in 1972 by the Eagles' song, "Take it Easy," with the lyrics: "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona."
In the early 1930s, the land where the cemetery is was tied to a tuberculosis sanatorium that broadened its patient base and finally became the Winslow Indian Health Care Center.
Native Americans who died there were taken the half-mile to the cemetery and largely forgotten over time.
Finding out who was buried there became Sadler's main fundraising tool to get a more secure fence built. With the names of only a few dozen that she gathered from a former commissioner, she said city officials initially were hesitant to contribute to the cause.
Her mission quickly became an obsession. On nights after work and on weekends, Sadler would go online and scour death certificates — some 8,800 from 1932 to 1962 — looking for the Indian Cemetery as the final resting place.
Sadler then would painstakingly enter each detail into a spreadsheet, from parents' names to birthplaces to causes of death.
Her project also kept her up at night. Lying restless in her bed, she would slip out of the blankets and walk barefoot in the dark to a corner bedroom set up as an office. She would flip on the light and get to work.
She would imagine the stories and the faces of the people she read about.
Sadler struggled with reading about a mother who died in labor, along with her newborn. The placenta preceded the child, and the mother hemorrhaged. Sadler experienced hemorrhaging in successfully delivering one of her own children.
"I shed more than one tear, especially when I would see the same mother, several times over the years burying a baby there. It just melted my heart," said Sadler, who has eight children in a blended family, and 17 grandchildren.
So far, she has found at least 543 names of people buried at the cemetery, and publicized her index in local papers and at the "Standing on the Corner" festival and others that attracted townsfolk, tourists and Navajo and Hopi tribal members.
Sadler was met with blank stares, raised eyebrows and warnings not to press forward with her work when she spoke with traditional Navajos, whose culture teaches that death is not something to dwell on and that burial sites should be avoided.
"If you talk about death, you're in a sense luring death to come to you," said Paul Begay, whose knowledge of Navajo culture and history was passed down through his father and grandfather, both medicine men.
Burials of Hopi generally are private and occur within a day of a person's death to allow the physical and spiritual journey of a person to begin simultaneously. Once a person is buried, Hopis don't revisit the burial site.
"We allow nature to take its course, and the spirit has journeyed already," said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the tribe's cultural preservation office, but talking about a deceased person isn't frowned upon.
"When you remember your people, you recognize that spiritually they are still with us," he said.
In April, Sadler accomplished one of her goals: A simple black iron fence replaced the barbed wire fence at the cemetery, paid for by donations and the city. She still is seeking funds to build a monument to those who were buried there.
Her index, however, continues to inspire discussions among Native American families, unearthing lost history.
Sylvia John, 63, found out five years ago that she had a brother who died after a fall as a toddler. She asked her mother about him after seeing him in old family photos but didn't push for more details in deference to her traditional Navajo beliefs.
On a recent day, they took a break from a quilting class and flipped through photos of the chubby-cheeked toddler wearing a western shirt, sitting on his mother's lap and standing next to his father.
Only then did John, who is Mormon, ask her 89-year-old mother where her brother was buried.
At the Winslow Indian Cemetery, she said. His name is on the first page of Sadler's index.
"I'm just wanting to go there to the cemetery and look for him," Sylvia John said.
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Dairy farmers squeezed in recent years by low milk prices and high feed costs can begin signing up next week for a new program replacing old subsidies that didn't factor in the price of corn.
Signups for the new program will run Sept. 2 to Nov. 28, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday. Farmers must enroll then to participate in the program in what's left of 2014 and in 2015. They will have annual signups after that.
The new program is a kind of insurance that pays farmers when the difference between milk prices and feed prices shrink to a certain level. The previous program paid farmers when milk prices sank too low, but didn't account for their costs.
Dairy farmers have struggled in recent years even with good milk prices. Feed costs rose because of demand for corn from the ethanol industry and droughts, including one in 2012 that covered two-thirds of the nation.
The price for benchmark December corn on Thursday as $3.67, compared to about $5.90 two years ago.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, warned farmers not to be complacent. In 2009 and 2012, milk gluts sent prices tumbling below the cost of production.
"Dairy prices are very high right now ... but you only have to have about a 1 or 1.5 to 2 percent surplus, and every dairy farmer knows that can go into a tailspin," said Leahy, who joined Vilsack in announcing the program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an online tool to help farmers figure out how much insurance they need.
Farmers can buy catastrophic coverage for $100 per year. It would pay if the difference between milk prices and feed costs sank to less than $4 per hundred pounds of milk on average. If a bigger margin is needed to make ends meet, farmers can buy additional coverage and pay a higher premium.
Ralph McNall, who has 200 Holsteins in Fairfax, Vermont, said the margin protection program is "as fair a program as they could hope to achieve." He said he appreciated the fact that it took feed prices into account.
Dairy economist Mark Stephenson said one difference between the dairy program and home or auto insurance is that most people don't know when they will have a car accident or home fire, but dairy farmers often have some warning of a milk glut or spike in feed prices.
"It's not going to be a perfect forecast, but you'll know generally if it's going to be a good year or bad year," he said.
Another challenge is that the program uses national averages to calculate the margin, so farmers have to figure out how their local markets compare, said Stephenson, the director of the Center for Dairy Profitability at the University of Wisconsin.
"So, if you knew that in 2013, you were OK, but you had some difficulties — 2012 was really bad — you might decide that a $5 margin was when you had a really hard time," Stephenson said. But, he added, "Once you determine that, you don't have to do that all the time. You just need to look at the forecast for the year ahead."
State extension services and USDA's Farm Service Agency will provide training for farmers signing up for the program, Vilsack said.
Greg Tauchen, whose family has 1,000 cows in Bonduel, Wisconsin, attended training offered earlier this year by the Land O'Lakes farmer cooperative. He decided his best options were either buying catastrophic insurance for $100 or going up to the $6.50 margin, which would cost roughly $60,000 in premiums. He's still debating what to do, given this year's forecast is good.
"I think farmers are going to jump in and out," when it comes to buying extra coverage, he said. But, he added, signing up for catastrophic coverage "is a no brainer."
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A third day of huge waves, dangerous rip currents and potential flooding was expected Thursday in Southern California as the coast felt the ripple effects of Tropical Storm Marie churning off the Mexican coast.
The biggest surf was expected at south-facing beaches in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with wave sets topping 15 feet in some areas, according to the National Weather Service. A high surf advisory was in effect through Friday before calmer waters return.
The weather service called this week's storm surge the most significant southerly swell event since July 25, 1996.
Spectators lined the shore of the Wedge in Newport Beach on Wednesday, where 20-foot waves were crashing and some of the world's best surfers were riding.
"It's as big as Southern California ever gets," Peter Mel, a prominent big-wave surfer just back from an event in Tahiti, told the Orange County Register. "It's perfect."
Amateurs took to the water too, at least the experienced ones who wary lifeguards would allow in.
Among them was Joshua Magner, 35, who has been surfing since he was 10, and said being in the water was life-altering.
"It's like being born," he said as he zipped his wetsuit and prepared to go back out. "You don't know what the outcome will be, but when you do make it through all that pressure is alleviated, it's liberation, truly the feeling of liberation."
Asked if he was afraid, he replied, "I was scared leaving my house. Dude, I was scared last night. I couldn't sleep."
Some gawkers had to park nearly 2 miles away and walk to the scene. One man rode a skateboard, carrying a baby. A man put a sign on his car offering his parking space for cash and another was selling commemorative T-shirts for $20 apiece.
Lifeguards up and down the coast sought to keep anyone out of the water who did not have strong experience and were kept busy making rescues all day.
Residents of about four blocks of homes along Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles, swept seawater from ground-floor rooms, and bulldozers reinforced a 6-foot-tall sand berm hastily built to protect shoreline structures.
The berm — a measure normally not needed until winter storms — and the use of pumps prevented more water intrusion during the Wednesday morning high tide.
The towering waves and rip currents were being produced by swells generated by Hurricane Marie in the Pacific Ocean about 800 miles west of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. While Hurricane-generated waves reached California's shores, the storm itself would remain far from the state.
Marie weakened to tropical storm levels, but life-threatening water conditions were expected to continue through Thursday.
West of Malibu, the old Cove House, used by lifeguards as a home base for decades, collapsed in big waves late Wednesday, several hours after it was emptied out.
"A lot of lifeguards have put a lot of time into it over the years. It's sad," retired lifeguard Norm Chapman told KCBS-TV. "It's hard not to get choked up."
Two cargo terminals at the Port of Long Beach stopped operations late Tuesday because surging, 10- to 15-foot-high waves endangered dockworkers.
The powerful surge also tossed heavy rocks from a seawall onto a road, causing damage and closing the roadway.
On Santa Catalina Island south of Los Angeles, a heavy surge Tuesday night sent sand, water and some 3,000-pound rocks into a boatyard, causing substantial damage and tossing some dry-docked boats off their stands, Avalon Harbor Master Brian Bray said.
The surge also tore away a floating children's swim platform and closed several docks to incoming traffic.
Along the shoreline in Seal Beach, firefighters went door to door, dropping off more sandbags for residents and surveying damage after the initial surge late Tuesday that topped a 2 1/2 foot beach wall, causing flooding in or around the first row of homes. About 100 residences were affected, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said.
Jaime and Blanca Brown's seaside home had a foot of seawater throughout the home, garage and carport. Soaked floor tiles in the hallway were buckled, and a dirty line marked the high point of water in almost every room and the garage. Sodden mattresses and carpets were stacked outside.
The Malibu Pier was closed after pilings were knocked loose. The pier's structural integrity remained sound because of redundancy but people were asked to stay away, State Parks Department official Craig Sap he said.
READING, Pa. (AP) — On the second day of class at Reading Senior High School, teacher Eric Knorr directs his students' attention to the banners hanging on the wall. Syracuse. Temple. Brown. Penn State. All of them brought back by former students who bucked the odds and went to college.
"You need to make sure you have a plan," Knorr exhorts the class. "Because your plan will lead to a banner, OK? It will lead to an opportunity to go to college."
Long seen as a way out of poverty, higher education eludes most students at Reading High. The public schools here are plagued by low test scores in reading, math and science; the school district has one of the highest dropout rates in the state; and, in a city where almost 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, many students' parents speak little or no English.
Yet, as another school year gets underway, Reading's Alvernia University is placing a $10 million bet that it can help kids in one of the nation's poorest cities get ready to do college work — and to succeed once they get there.
The first five students selected for the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program joined Alvernia's freshman class last week, flush with full-tuition scholarships and plenty of support to help them make the transition from a high school where fewer than seven in 10 graduate.
"I want to be the best that I can, and I just push myself," said Melisa Rivera, 18. "There's no obstacle I can't overcome."
Alvernia, a small, private school started by Roman Catholic sisters, has partnered with the city's Olivet Boys & Girls Club on a program that aims to help hundreds of high school students get ready for college — any college — through an intensive four-year program of tutoring and mentoring. That effort launched in the spring.
Additionally, as many as 20 city kids a year will get full scholarships to Alvernia, where they'll receive additional tutoring and mentoring. The university is raising money to endow the scholarships.
"We can't forget about places like Reading," said David Myers, director of Alvernia's O'Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service. "We can't forget about these kinds of kids."
Alvernia is patterning its program after one run by the Posse Foundation, a 25-year-old group that's recruited more than 5,000 high-achieving high school students from major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to receive full scholarships from partner colleges and universities.
But there are important differences. Reading (pronounced REH'-ding) is a small, easily overlooked city of 88,000, while the students that Alvernia seeks to serve are not the ones who scored 1,400 on their SATs. They're typically average kids with potential — the ones who often slip through the cracks.
Rivera said most of her childhood friends "took a wrong path" and "started to go with the wrong crowd."
"They had the motivation when they were younger," said Rivera, "but they lost it."
Alvernia had tried before to serve underprivileged teenagers in Reading, with little success. Only 20 percent graduated within six years.
"We were bringing students here and they were not doing well," Myers said. "They weren't coming back after the first year."
Alvernia realized it would have to do more to help. Among other requirements, students in the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program commit to a summer "bridge" program and to regular meetings with community and faculty mentors who will help make sure they stay on track.
"You have to have a mentality that you want to succeed, to get out of that environment," said scholarship student and Reading native Juan Paula, 17, who's majoring in criminal justice and wants to be an officer in the Marine Corps. "Because you have people constantly trying to bring you into that environment, and if you're not strong-willed enough, you'll get dragged in."
While their fellow freshmen moved into the dorms last week, the Reading crew assembled in a campus media suite to work on a video promoting their hometown — a city, they say, with a lot going for it despite its problems.
Forget what you've heard, they told the camera. Give Reading a chance.