WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) – With an instructor looking on, the 8-year-old boy at a gun fair aimed the Uzi at a pumpkin and pulled the trigger as his dad reached for a camera.

It was his first time shooting a fully automatic machine gun, but the recoil of the weapon was too much for him. He lost control, fatally shooting himself in the head.

Now gun safety experts – and some gun enthusiasts at the club where the shooting happened – are questioning why such a young child was allowed to fire a weapon used on battlefields. Local, state and federal authorities are also investigating whether everyone involved in the incident 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, Mass. “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, Conn., was pronounced dead at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. 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. “We do not know at this time the full facts of this incident.”

Christopher was attending the show with his father and brother Colin, a sixth-grader.

Christopher had experience firing handguns and rifles, but Sunday was the first time he fired an automatic weapon, said his father, Charles Bizilj.

Bizilj told the Boston Globe he was about 10 feet behind his son and was reaching for his camera when the weapon fired. He said his family avoided trying larger weapons, but let his son try the Uzi because it’s 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, Conn. “This is a horrible event, a horrible travesty, and I really don’t know why it happened.”

A call was placed to Bizilj seeking comment. Someone who answered the door at the family’s Ashford home declined to comment and asked a reporter to leave.

Police are calling the shooting an accident, but are investigating whether everyone connected with the incident had the 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 to the sporting club’s 375-acre compound. 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 nation. 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 afternoon.

Francis Mitchell, a trustee and longtime member and shooting range officer for the sportsman’s club, said the shooting was the first in his memory during the 50 years that he’s been a member of the club. He was at Sunday’s fair, volunteering as a range officer at the firing range next to where Christopher was shooting.

“We plan everything as safe as we can. This one incident got away from us, and it’s too bad. I’ve been sick all day, all night over it. I mean, it was just a shock. It really hits you home,” Mitchell said.

Asked whether he thought it was appropriate for a child to shoot an Uzi, Mitchell said, “That’s a parental decision to make. If the father OK’d it, then it was his choice to make.”

Sportsman’s club member Rich Dupont of Agawam, Mass., said children should be taught how to shoot a firearm, but he said he would have tried a smaller weapon for an 8-year-old.

“When it comes to an 8-year-old kid, I don’t know if they knew what they were doing,” he said.

The sportsman’s club was founded in 1949 and describes itself on its Web site as an organization that promotes “the interest of legal sport with rod, gun, and bow and arrow, both directly and through training.”

The site has eight firing ranges as well as archery and fishing facilities located in Westfield, about 100 miles west of Boston.

Peter Robbins, the former director of the Barnstable Police Academy and a former firearms instructor, called the boy’s death a tragedy, but said gun clubs try to teach children about gun safety.

“It’s a wonderful experience to expose younger people to firearms safety through these clubs. That’s what these clubs are about,” Robbins said.

Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Ashford, Conn., and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.

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AP-ES-10-27-08 1807EDT

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