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In America Today, a 9-Year-Old Girl Can't Play Alone in a Park But She Can Play With an Uzi

Two 9-year-old girls. Two stories, almost exactly one month apart.

July 28, Associated Press:

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – Plenty of working parents can relate to the dilemma Debra Harrell faced when her 9-year-old daughter asked to play unsupervised in a park this summer. How do you find the time and money for child care when school is out?

Harrell's answer to that question got her arrested. She spent 17 days in jail, temporarily lost custody of her girl, thought she lost her job, and still faces 10 years in prison if convicted of felony child neglect.

The decision of this 46-year-old single mother and McDonald's shift manager has been picked apart since police were called when Regina was spotted alone in the park.

August 27, Associated Press:

PHOENIX (AP) — "All right, full auto," the firing-range instructor tells a 9-year-old girl. She braces the Uzi submachine gun and opens fire at a black-silhouette target. But the recoil wrenches the fully automatic weapon upward, and the instructor is shot in the head and killed.

The death has set off a powerful debate over youngsters and guns, with many people wondering what sort of parents would let a child handle an Uzi.

I’m pretty sure that when the Rick Perlsteins of the future try to capture the Zeitgeist of our age, they’ll find some kind of larger truth in the conjunction of these two episodes. In the summer of 2014 in America, a woman spent more than two weeks in jail for letting her 9-year-old girl play at a playground down the street from her job. Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, it was considered entirely acceptable—"Bullets and Burgers," the highlight of a tourist loop—for another girl of the exact same age to shoot a fully automatic weapon that was designed for the Israeli military and can fire 600 rounds per minute.

And while the tragedy in Arizona has indeed “set off a powerful debate” about kids and guns, it hasn’t brought the parents of the girl at the gun range, tourists visiting from New Jersey, anything close to the kind of sociological scrutiny that fell upon Debra Harrell, an African-American single mom trying to make ends meet with her fast-food job. Even after the instructor's death, the NRA blithely tweeted out on its NRA Women account: "7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range."

In all seriousness: If Harrell had dropped off Regina at a shooting range instead of at the jungle gym, would she have been in the clear?