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What were they thinking? An UZI in the hands of a child leads to tragedy

Even though this tragic story happened in New England, its subject gives parents, all those who work or connect with our children, and all those who see guns as a game rather than a weapon of war, something to think about. This could happen anywhere. This could happen here.

What were they thinking?

Every time I think I’ve heard it all, I find that I haven’t. This newest jolt came in the form tragedy as an eight-year-old Connecticut boy died Sunday afternoon while participating in a machine gun shoot. You read that right: a machine gun shoot. A game. A contest of sorts. Supervised by gun instructors. At a sportsman’s club. The child “lost control” of the 9 mm Micro Uzi machine gun he was shooting; the force of the gun caused it to travel up and back, resulting in a single fatal gunshot wound to the boy’s head even as his father was recording the event on camera. The boy’s father accompanied his son in the ambulance; the boy later died at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Charles Bizilj, the father, is  director of emergency medicine at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford, Connecticut.

I repeat: What were they thinking?

Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Connecticut, had parental permission to take part in a machine gun shoot at the Westfield (Massachusetts) Sportsman’s Club’s Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo, where, under the supervision of a certified instructor, he was firing the Uzi in question at a pumpkin (in the Great American Pumpkin Shoot) , a Westfield Police Department report stated. The child had previously used handguns and rifles but had never used a automatic weapon before.The event was organized by C.O.P. Firearms & Training, an Amherst company which organizes machine gun shoots throughout New England.

The boy “was shooting the weapon down range when the force of the weapon made it travel up and back toward his head, where he suffered the injury,” a police statement said. Police called it a “self-inflicted accidental shooting” and added that “the weapon was loaded and ready to fire.” Despite the initial determination of accidental death, the Hampden County (Massachusetts) District Attorney’s Office will conduct an investigation, verifying the certifications of the intructors and the existence of required permits. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has some of the harshest regulations on firearms in the country, licenses are required for firearms ownership, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issues other licenses for machine gun possession.

What were they thinking?

Knowing that Uzi are weapons in domestic terrorism, in gangs and in foreign wars, I looked up the Uzi in question on the firearms website; my stomach curled. Not necessarily from the weapon itself but from the idea that someone, anyone, would want to place this kind of weapon — regardless of trainers and traning and parental consent — in the hands of a child. An eight-year-old child. A child who, at best, might be taught how to use a BB gun or maybe a 22 caliber rifle — maybe (I was 12 when my dad taught me to shoot, and the gun still left my shoulder bruised from the recoil). In Vermont, my best friend’s son was taught basic shotgun handling at a young age, knowing that moose, coyotes, bobcats, fisher cats, and bears abound around his mountaintop forest home, with only the coyotes posing a problem. He was a teenager before he took certification training for a hunting license.

A bit of Uzi history

The UZI was developed (and hence its name) by Uziel Gal (1924-2002) a captain in the Israeli army who won an internal competition for the design of a new sub machine gun. The first prototypes appeared in 1950 and soon after the first production batches were issued to selected units for field testing. An improved design appeared just before the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and it was in this desert war that the UZI emerged as a winner in the highly demanding surroundings. The UZI turned out to be not only highly reliable, but also surprisingly accurate for such type of weapon, and soon caught the eye of the international firearms community. During the 1960s a new folding metal stock replaced the original wooden stock and the UZI was also licensed to be produced by FN, the Belgian firearms company.

The UZI gained its fame not only in combat, but also as a favorite of elite forces and security services. During the attempted assassination on U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the press cameras caught one of his bodyguards pulling an UZI from his jacket. In subsequent years the UZI also became a regular feature in dozens of actions movies where it was seen in the hands of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Weapons of War are not “child’s play”

Surely the Sportman’s Club instructors knew the power and possibilities of placing such a weapon in the hands of a child, and the implication of a machine — it’s not exactly what you use to hunt deer, bear, moose or wild turkeys. Isn’t there a possibility that an Uzi just might  be “overkill.”

Beyond that, though, is the thought that this gun, this UZI is a weapon of war. It’s a gang weapon on American streets. It’s a soldier’s weapon in other warring parts of the world. It is not a toy, or a game. I can hear the NRA and gun-lovers and “right to bear arms” people now: don’t take away our weapons. I can hear the NRA and gun-lovers and “right to bear arms” people now: accidents happen. Yeah, they do. Even though I am not a gun fan in any sense, I’m not necessarily saying we should ban all guns and take away gun-owners rights (I do think we need controls on a number of warlike weapons). But I look at this type of military weapon and just don’t see rhyme or reason for placing it  — once again — in the hands of a child.

In an Associated Press report, both safety experts and some gun owners “are wondering why such a young child was allowed to fire a weapon used in war.”

Speaking on behalf of Stop Handgun Violence (Newton, Massachusetts), Jerry Belair noted that it is “relatively easy to lose control of a weapon like that … they are used on a battleground for a very good reason … 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.”

I cannot help but sympathize with the family over the loss of a son at such a young age.  I hope that the communities involved will rally around the family and help them through the tragedy. I hope that in some way the aftermath of this tragedy will incite some needed thought into whose hands we place these weapons.

An internet search of web links to the Westfield Sportsman’s Club turned up “account suspended” notices. The one site still up did not include a listing for the event in question, though a prior web posting said:

“… the event, run in conjunction with C.O.P. Firearms and Training, is ‘all legal and fun.’ People will be allowed to fire weapons at vehicles, pumpkins and other targets.”

In promoting the event, the Sportsman’s Club called the event “fun” and “legal,” and said no permits/licenses would be required to participate. Free handgun lessons, lesson on machine gun use, and rentals would be offered. The club indicated that children “ages 16 and under” would be admitted free. Pistol and rifle shooting were offered to both adults and children.

Scenic Westfield, Massachusetts, became the scene of tragedy witht he death of a child

The private club, which was established in 1949, promotes “the interest of legal sport with rod, gun, and bow and arrow, both directly and through training” and has eight firing ranges in addition to archery and fishing facilities on a 375 acres Westfield site. The club has apparently opted for “no comment.” Phone messages are not being returned.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Christine;
    Thank you for a well written article. You make it plain that you don’t believe the Uzi should be legal but you also place the responsibility squarely where it belongs. In the hands of the people who placed this weapon in the hands of that child.

    Thank you
    Eric

  2. I am a gun owner and a member of the NRA. I found it odd that the person interviewed had to put words into mouths of people like me. I find that irresponsible. It did say a lot about that person though and their level of ignorance. I wish to correct a few things and add more light instead of heat to the discussion.

    I am deeply saddened by this tragedy. I believe children should be taught to respect firearms and not treat them as toys. I believe children can be safely taught to fire small caliber rifles such as .22s but I am against putting handguns in their hands for the reasons this tragedy illustrates. I personally have respect and fear of all firearms. Fear is healthy, especially when dealing with live firearms.

    There is this odd quote in the article above: “…are wondering why such a young child was allowed to fire a weapon used in war.” That sounds like a direct quote from Jerry Belair himself (he may have been misquoted but he doesn’t seem to know a lot about guns given his other quotes in the article). I would ask “why was a diminutive person handed a weapon that is so hard to control?” See, the gun in question is about 4 1/2 pounds with a full magazine(the box that holds the bullets). It has a tremendous rate of fire (about double the rate of fire of an M16A4.) While small, it is still designed for an adult’s hands, not a child’s. Further the lack of weight means there isn’t a lot of mass to absorb the recoil. “War” has nothing to do with it. Handing a child a powerful handgun that isn’t used in war would get an expert to ask the same question. A single shot, high-powered target gun could be equally dangerous in the hands of someone not able to handle it correctly. Poor handling coupled with powerful recoil is a recipe for danger.

    I support an investigation into this incident. It is possible they will find that safety precautions were made and it was just an accident or they may find that no precautions were made in which case this was a preventable tragedy. For the reasons given above I question the judgment used here, but I would like to know more about what was going on. I don’t feel like I have a full picture of what happened.

    Before you judge “NRA types” you should learn more. The NRA sponsors and I support responsible handling of firearms for all purposes. The NRA sponsors safety programs to educate adults and children with the aim of preventing accidents. People who own guns don’t want to see these kinds of incidents *more so* than people who don’t own guns because we recognize that incidents like this often are followed by emotional reactions in legislation which affect us more than they affect you. I bet you will find that mainstream NRA members are more likely to agree with liberal goals than you may think. Safety and reduced violence are not just the values of the left.

    Very little is as tragic as losing a child. My heart goes out to the family and to the people that attended or were a part of the show. No one went there hoping this would happen and I am sure there is a tremendous amount of despair being felt by all. We should keep these people in our thoughts.

  3. My question is why was this weapon not locked up and out of site, two, why was it loaded?! You have children in the house ultimately the responsibility is to make sure that the kids cannot easily access these things, just like we should make sure that our children cannot easily access the internet without our monitoring, we’ve lost all common sense on how to be parents, starting with raising our children, discipline, seriously when did timeout become ok parenting, and why? We wonder why our children act the way they do, why they’re unruly, think of our they’re being raised, are you yourselves being good role models, who are they hanging out with, are you involved in your childrens life? Do you have a filter on your computer to block harmful sites from your kids eyes, are they getting on the net without your supervision, all things are seriously to be considered, do you not realize we have the worst reputation as a generation, because of our raising, and lack of responsibility to our children, I shudder to think what is coming to the next generation because of it…

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