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Too Young to Shoot? Why It's Legal for Kids to Handle Uzis

Aren’t there laws to prevent children from handling guns like that? The answer is sadly, “Not really.”
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In the aftermath of the tragic death of a gun-range instructor killed by a 9-year-old girl who wasn’t able to control an Uzi 9mm submachine gun, many are raising questions about whether it is safe — or even legal — for young children to handle powerful firearms.

Arizona, where the incident happened on Monday, is one of 21 states that has no laws restricting the access of guns to minors under 18, as long as there is adult supervision.

Twenty-nine states have child access prevention laws. Fourteen prohibit someone from "intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly providing some or all firearms to children," according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It is up to states and local municipalities to regulate gun access. At a federal level, there is no law covering children’s access to guns, even powerful machine guns.

And at gun ranges the management, in compliance with state laws, can determine what age a person must be to handle firearms. Sam Scarmardo, manager of the “Bullets and Burgers” range where Monday's incident took place, told NBC News that “the established practice at most shooting ranges is eight years old and up with parental supervision.”

A similar incident happened in October 2008, when 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj was killed at a Massachusetts “Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo” after losing control of an Uzi he was firing.

"We also hope that this event will lead to a national discussion about children and guns."

His death inspired Connecticut, Bizilj's home state, to pass a law the next year that banned children under 16 years old from handling or shooting machine guns.

“It’s very gray, because there really is no (federal) law on this,” Tom Mangan, special agent in the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told NBC News. “It seems to go beyond common sense … obviously what we have here is a very tragic accident that occurred with the loss of the life of that instructor, but also with that respect to that little girl.”

Mangan noted that the Bullets and Burgers gun range had a clean compliance record, and the fatal accident would not even affect their license. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday that the investigation is completed and no charges will be filed.

Statistics show that more than 7,000 children are injured by gun violence every year, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 62 children were killed in unintentional shootings from December 2012 and December 2013.

A joint report out this June from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, two anti-firearm lobbying groups, titled “Innocents Lost” claimed the number of children killed in unintentional shootings may be higher than the federal statistics show, and claimed its analysis shows at least 100 children died in unintentional shootings during the same one-year period — and said most of those deaths could have been prevented by properly securing firearms.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victim and the young girl involved in this tragedy. We also hope that this event will lead to a national discussion about children and guns,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement to NBC News.

“While not the case in this situation, we can't help but be reminded of the fact that more than two million American children live in homes with unsecured guns and also of our own research, which found that nearly two children are killed every week in unintentional shootings. The majority of these tragedies can be prevented by responsible gun storage, which is why we hope this event spurs dialogue on the importance of gun safety and responsibility."

The National Rifle Association did not return requests for comment on this story, but has noted before that more than one million youth participate in NRA sport shooting events and other programs.

Lindsey Zwicker, Staff Attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that any real change in child gun laws will have to come from a local legislative level and pressure from concerned citizens.

“This recent tragic incident has gotten a lot of coverage in the media just in the past day, but so many children die every day in America due to our weak gun laws,” Zwicker told NBC News on Wednesday. “When things like this happen I think people become more aware of where the gaps in the laws are and it does seem to be a good time to recognize where change is necessary and where it can happen.”