How Does a 9-Year-Old Come to Shoot a Fully Automatic Weapon?
Under the federal Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986, it became a crime for civilians to own machine guns, but with a huge exception: Any gun made before the law went into effect is exempt. It's fine for civilians to resell and buy those old guns, too, as long as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approves the sale. The approval process involves a $200 transfer tax and an FBI background check. A few states have banned automatic weapons entirely, but Arizona, one of the most gun-friendly states, is not one of them.
"Assuming it was a pre-1986 machine gun and the sale was legal, then yes," says Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.Federal law prohibits children under 18 from buying guns, but they can still fire them with adult supervision.
Quartz's Gwynn Guilford did the math: With the average American nine-year-old girl weighing about 60 pounds, and the average Uzi weighing seven to nine pounds, "That would be roughly equal to a 40-year-old man firing a 25-pound gun like, say, the Hotchkiss M1909 used in trench warfare in World Wars I and II—a weapon so heavy it sat on a tripod." (Ironically, the Uzi is designed to be relatively light in the hands of an adult, which can also make handling its powerful recoil more tricky.)
Sadly, this tragedy is not the first of its kind. An eight-year-old Massachusetts boy died at a gun show in 2008, when an Uzi he was firing at pumpkins kicked back and he shot himself in the head. The former police chief who organized the show and provided the child with the weapon was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.
Indeed, that's the outcome in the vast majority of cases. A recent Mother Jonesinvestigation found that out of 72 cases in 2013 in which kids handling guns accidentally killed themselves or other kids, adults were held criminally liable in only 4.