WESTFIELD, Mass. – With an instructor watching, an 8-year-old boy at a gun fair aimed an Uzi submachine gun at a pumpkin and pulled the trigger as his dad reached for a camera.
It was his first time shooting a fully automatic gun, and the recoil of the weapon was too much for him. He lost control and fatally shot himself in the head.
Now gun safety experts — and some gun enthusiasts at the club where the shooting happened — are wondering why such a young child was allowed to fire a weapon used in war. Local, state and federal authorities are also investigating whether everyone involved had proper licenses or if anyone committed a criminal act.
"It's easy to lose control of a weapon like that ... they are used on a battleground for a very good reason," said Jerry Belair, a spokesman for Stop Handgun Violence, based in Newton, Massachusetts. "It's to shoot as many times as you possibly can without having to reload at an enemy that's approaching. It's not a toy. It's not something to play with."
Police said Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Connecticut, was pronounced dead at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sunday afternoon, shortly after firing a 9mm micro Uzi submachine gun at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club, co-sponsored by C.O.P. Firearms & Training.
"The weapon was loaded and ready to fire," Westfield police Lt. Hipolito Nunez said. "The 8-year-old victim had the Uzi and as he was firing the weapon, the front end of the weapon went up with the backfire and he ended up receiving a round in his head."
Nunez said the investigation is continuing.
Christopher was attending the show with his father and older brother, Colin. Christopher had fired handguns and rifles before, but Sunday was his first time firing an automatic weapon, said his father, Charles Bizilj.
Bizilj told the Boston Globe he was about 10 feet (three meters) behind his son and reaching for his camera when the weapon fired. He said his family avoided the larger weapons, but he let his son try the Uzi because it is a small weapon with little recoil.
"This accident was truly a mystery to me," said Bizilj, director of emergency medicine at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford, Connecticut. "This is a horrible event, a horrible travesty, and I really don't know why it happened."
Police are calling the shooting an accident but are investigating whether everyone connected with the incident had proper weapons permits. Massachusetts requires licenses to own firearms, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issues different licenses to possess machine guns.
The machine gun shoot drew hundreds of people from as far away as Maine and Virginia. An advertisement said it would include machine gun demonstrations and rentals and free handgun lessons.
"It's all legal & fun — No permits or licenses required!!!!" reads the ad, posted on the club's Web site.
"You will be accompanied to the firing line with a Certified Instructor to guide you. But You Are In Control — "FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL," the ad said.
The ad also said children under 16 would be admitted free, and both adults and children were offered free .22-caliber pistol and rifle shooting.
Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. It is legal in Massachusetts for children to fire a weapon if they have permission from a parent or legal guardian and they are supervised by a properly certified and licensed instructor, Nunez said. The name of the instructor who was with the boy at the time was not released.
"We do not know at this time the full facts of this incident," Nunez said Monday.