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Gun show tragedy; Review laws, but emphasize common sense.


The tragic death of a Connecticut boy who accidentally shot himself in the head with an automatic weapon at an event at the Westfield Sportsman's Club last week has sent shock waves from the Berkshires to Beacon Hill, and with good reason. Firing a fully automatic weapon is by no stretch of the imagination an appropriate recreational activity for an 8-year-old, regardless of previous experience or seeming maturity.

However, the public and lawmakers should not, on the basis of an extraordinarily rare accident, rush to enact new laws that may not advance gun safety.

Reacting to the tragedy, Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, declared his intention to file a bill to ban anyone under 21 from firing an automatic weapon. That proposal is absurd on its face: Young men and women, after all, enlist in the nation's armed forces and use automatic weapons.

That said, a thorough and dispassionate investigation is needed. There is some confusion as to what law does or does not allow when it comes to the handling of firearms at gun shows. While the event's organizer, COPS Firearm & Training of Amherst, advertised that participants would be under no age restrictions, Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett stated last week that he has found "no lawful authority which allows an 8-year-old to possess or fire a machine gun."

Mr. Bennett's investigation will include eyewitness accounts of the show, videotape and a scrutiny of Chapter 140, Section 130 of the state laws. While that law specifies that minors under 15 may handle rifles or shotguns with parental permission and under the supervision of a licensed professional, the main purpose of the law is to prohibit the sale or "furnishing" of machine guns to minors.

However the law is interpreted, the father's decision to allow the boy to fire a fully automatic weapon will haunt his family forever. This tragedy should be a reminder to parents, gun owners and instructors alike of the importance of training and safety courses, as well as the need to exercise common sense in the handling and use of all firearms.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 3, 2008
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