14-Year Old Boy Killed After Shooting Himself In Head With Replica Cannon

In Tremonton, Utah, a family is facing a bizarre tragedy after Robby Ostberg, 14, was killed after being shot in the head by a small replica cannon. Notably, the police have said that they first believed that the cannon was purely decorative but then found that it was designed to fire a .50-caliber round. That would create a possible basis for a tort lawsuit for negligence and possibly product liability.

If the cannon was in fact designed to fire a .50-caliber round, there is the question of whether it should have been treated as a firearm and whether it was defectively designed. However, Utah laws are silent on replica firearms and antique firearms.

Product manufacturers are liable for “foreseeable misuse.” The question is whether such a device should have had some safety feature. Obviously, the parents would hold the clearest responsibility in protecting children from this risk — as they would a loaded gun in the house. Notably I was able to find various cannons that fire a .50 caliber round. The products do not come with any warnings. Indeed, one such product says that the cannon can help you “[s]tart a new family tradition, celebrate a holiday or just have fun with friends by firing off this historic-looking replica cannon. This .50 caliber has the look and feel of a working piece of artillery.” However, that product comes with the following warnings:

I could not find any law in Utah requiring safety locks on firearms. Utah does have a few limitations on minors using firearms but it does not appear that this replica would fit the definition of a firearm.

So, if Utah does not require any permit for such a product, can it be viewed as defective absent safety features? If a gun is not required to have such safety features, why would the toy cannon? What do you think?

Source: Deseret

32 thoughts on “14-Year Old Boy Killed After Shooting Himself In Head With Replica Cannon”

  1. mespo-
    Oh I know. I’m looking into a quick open safe for my gun. It’s sufficiently secure now, but as my infant gets older I’ll need something better. The problem is, you and I aren’t insane or stupid (I won’t presume to think that you think the same of me 🙂 ).

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about an accidental shooting where someone said, “I always keep my guns in the safe but I forgot this one time.” In virtually every case, it’s someone who stored their guns in a horrifyingly negligent manner. The vast majority of the time, I don’t think including a lock in their gun case will prompt them to actually *use* them. So sure, require them in the box, it’s certainly not a violation of anyone’s rights and the cost would be negligible compared to the gun. I just wouldn’t bet on accident rates being affected by such a law.

  2. Jason:

    There are some pretty fool-proof locking systems out there. I have a gun safe for my Taurus .357 revolver and the combination is simple even in the dark. I keep the long guns locked away in a closet. Not much good against an intruder anyway.

  3. Anybody know whether firing this cannon would constitute an ultrahazardous activity? Anybody know whether any court anywhere would characterize this as such?

  4. Thanks Blouise, the poem you posted made me completely change my mind on a complicated issue.

  5. Blouse, We never owned guns or cannons. mespo, It is hard to ignore the “morons”.

  6. Cops Probe Death of Boy Killed By Toy Cannon
    By Edward Lovett | ABC News Blogs

    Utah cops are trying to determine what triggered a tiny replica cannon to fire something into the face of a 14-year-old boy, killing him.

    “We’re waiting for the autopsy,” said Joyce Hansen, administrative assistant to the chief of police in Tremonton, Utah. She said it might take weeks, depending on the workload of the state medical examiner’s office in Salt Lake City.

    Robby Ostberg died Monday when the replicate 18th century cannon he was holding fired accidentally, a police press release said.

    According to the release, Ostberg had been playing video games with his 16-year-old brother when the cannon erupted. He was dead when police arrived, the release said.

    The release said the cannon was a .50-caliber weapon designed to be fired with black powder. Police did not know what type of propellant may have been in the cannon Monday or if there had been a projectile in it, police said.

    Robby Ostberg often filled the cannon with black powder and fired tinfoil balls out of it, Cameron Kunsman, who called Robby his best friend, told the Deseret News.

    Trever Steinlicht, a neighbor, said cannons like the Ostbergs’ could send a projectile through a wall or kill “small game,” ABC4 said. They are known to go off accidentally, he said. “All it takes is for something to slip and the hammer to drop on it and it will go boom,” Steinlicht said.

    There is legal confusion over whether the miniature cannons are decorations, toys or firearms, according to a blog post by legal scholar Jonathan Turley.

  7. For all the gun lovers:


    ‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,

    Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;

    But over its terrible edge there had slipped

    A duke and full many a peasant.

    So the people said something would have to be done,

    But their projects did not at all tally;

    Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”

    Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

    But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,

    For it spread through the neighbouring city;

    A fence may be useful or not, it is true,

    But each heart became full of pity

    For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;

    And the dwellers in highway and alley

    Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,

    But an ambulance down in the valley.

    “For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,

    “And, if folks ever slip and are dropping,

    It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much

    As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”

    So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,

    Quick forth would those rescuers sally

    To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,

    With their ambulance down in the valley.

    Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me

    That people give far more attention

    To repairing results than to stopping the cause,

    When they’d much better aim at prevention.

    Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,

    “Come, neighbours and friends, let us rally;

    If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense

    With the ambulance down in the valley.”

    “Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,

    “Dispense with the ambulance? Never!

    He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;

    No! No! We’ll support them forever.

    Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?

    And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?

    Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,

    While the ambulance works in the valley?”

    But the sensible few, who are practical too,

    Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;

    They believe that prevention is better than cure,

    And their party will soon be the stronger.

    Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,

    And while other philanthropists dally,

    They will scorn all pretence, and put up a stout fence

    On the cliff that hangs over the valley.”


  8. mespo-
    I have little problem with child safety locks in principle. The problem comes with the humans who are supposed to use them. People who are too stupid to educate their kids and/or properly secure their guns probably can’t be depended on to use the locks. So I don’t have a huge problem with forcing manufacturers to provide them, I just don’t think it will do much good.

  9. Jason:

    I agree some of the safety precautions speak more to politics than safety, but I think most people agree that child safety locks go directly to the heart of the problem. It’s a sad commentary that we regulate baby food and cars more than we do firearms.

  10. Bit late on mespo’s comment, but it should be noted that some of the “common sense” policies for which Utah was downgraded are nonsense.

    *Safety standards for handguns- I’m presuming they are referring to something like California’s system. That system forces gun manufacturers to jump through hoops to sell their guns and has little to do with safety. A good example is that when Glock put out a model in a different color, they had to submit it to the state’s lengthy “safety” process, even though it was mechanically identical to the same gun in its original color.

    *Does not require background checks for all gun sales at gun shows- This is the “gun show loophole” that doesn’t actually exist. The majority of dealers at gun shows have Federal Firearms Licenses, and they must submit all sales to the NICS system. Sales by non FFLs do not have to be submitted, but that is the case whether at a gun show or not. If you required all gun show sales to have background checks, beating the law would be as simple as walking out to the parking lot for the transaction.

    *Liberal laws on issuing concealed-weapons permits- More than 80% of all states now have such “shall issue” concealed carry laws. There is no evidence that they have an adverse effect, and not a single state has repealed such laws.

  11. How was it unsafe? What if it had a safety lever? Somehow it got pointed at the person and went off and killed him. Somehow –the word involves people. Did a kid shoot it? If so, where were the parents?

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