BOSTON – A prosecutor said Tuesday he is investigating whether criminal charges should be filed after an 8-year-old boy accidentally killed himself while firing an Uzi submachine gun at a gun fair in western Massachusetts.
Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., shot himself in the head when he lost control of the 9mm micro submachine gun as it recoiled while he was firing at a pumpkin. Police have said the shooting at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club on Sunday was an accident.
Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett said he is investigating whether the gun fair violated the state's firearms law by allowing the boy to fire the machine gun, and also whether it was "a reckless or wanton act to allow an 8-year-old to use a fully loaded automatic weapon."
"At this point in the investigation I have found no lawful authority which allows an 8-year-old to possess or fire a machine gun," Bennett said in a statement.
Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his interpretation is that Massachusetts law specifically prohibits "furnishing a machine gun to any person under 18."
"It is unconscionable that the gun fair allowed and encouraged young children to fire machine guns," he said in a statement.
On Monday, Westfield police Lt. Hipolito Nunez said 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.
The section of the statute that mentions that exception, however, only lists rifles, shotguns and ammunition — and is silent on the use of machine guns.
Bennett did not return calls Tuesday seeking additional comment.
The boy was attending the gun fair with his father and brother Colin, a sixth-grader. His father, Charles Bizilj, said Christopher had experience firing handguns and rifles, but Sunday was his first time firing an automatic weapon. A certified instructor was with the boy at the time.
On Monday, Bizilj told The Boston Globe he was about 10 feet behind his son and reaching for his camera when the weapon fired. He said his family avoided larger weapons, but he let his son try the Uzi because it's a small weapon with little recoil. The family did not return messages for comment Tuesday.
Francis Mitchell, a trustee and longtime member and shooting range officer for the sportsman's club, declined comment Tuesday, saying he was unaware that a criminal investigation was under way.
Edward Fleury, owner of COP Firearms & Training, which co-sponsored the event, did not immediately return a message left after business hours.
The Republican newspaper of Springfield reported Tuesday night that the town of Pelham, where Fleury has been police chief since 1991, took undisclosed administrative action after he discharged a loaded rifle during a gun safety class he was teaching in 2003. No one was injured, and Fleury said in a public apology he would take steps to prevent similar incidents.
Pelham selectman Edward Martin told the newspaper Tuesday the board plans to issue a statement to residents this week pointing out that Fleury was at the gun expo on his own time. Martin called Bizilj's death "a tragic accident."
Fleury's company and the sportsman's club have held the expo since 2002. The newspaper said Fleury described it in a 2005 interview as a safe environment for people "to see and fire some of the guns that they've seen in the movies, or on the History Channel, or other events that involve firearms."