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. “When I was a kid, I had a homemade “pistol” made of a tube that had a plug at one end and open at the other. I drilled a small hole in the plugged end and used an old dentist’s tool to fish out the fuse of the firecracker I dropped in it. I made a handle out of a piece of scrap wood. It was, for all intent and purpose, a gun.”

    OS,

    Sounds like a zip gun to me. 🙂

  2. Wadding can be lethal at close range. Some actor in the mid-80s killed himself on set by firing a blank at his own head as a joke.

    I don’t know if the shockwave from a blackpowder explosion alone is enough to be fatal. Maybe, if you’re young and it hits the wrong spot.

    BTW paintball guns can also be lethal. Same thing – younger person (so their skull is still far from fused) hitting the wrong spot. Would you say they should also be treated as firearms?

  3. “quiet rcampbell”

    QUIET!!?? It’s a real bother when you’re being reminded about needlessly dead children, isn’t it? That’s just too freakin’ bad for you because I will most certainly NOT be quiet? In fact, thank you for providing a rejuvinated enthusiasm boost with your smarmy comment. I had almost given up on my radical view of trying to save children’s lives from senselsess gun deaths.

  4. Elaine,
    That is a disturbing story about allowing guns into elementary schools. What good are guns in schools, especially an elementary schools? Maybe I could understand an inner city high school that has gang problems, but then only the security should be allowed to have them.

  5. The Moar You Know-
    That is not the case. Gun makers can still be sued for defective or unsafe design. My wife was involved in one such case a few years ago.

  6. Oh yeah, also, I’m pretty sure firearms are wholly exempt from lawsuits regarding unsafe design. They are designed to shoot people, after all.

  7. Legally, I’m thinking it’s a black-powder firearm. The laws for those are significantly different from regular firearms.

    I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t have a warning that you are NOT supposed to load a projectile into it. These are intended for use as noisemakers.

  8. Off Topic:

    Colorado Republicans Push Bill To Allow Guns In Elementary Schools
    By Marie Diamond on Jan 23, 2012
    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/01/23/408931/colorado-republicans-push-bill-to-allow-guns-in-schools/

    Excerpt:
    Abandoning any pretense that they’re focused on job creation, Colorado Republicans have clarified their priorities for the new legislative session: guns rights. Specifically, they are doing their best to ensure that citizens have the unfettered ability to carry guns anywhere — including into elementary, middle, and high schools:

    Colorado Republicans are reloading previous attempts to expand gun rights, bringing back legislation that would allow concealed weapons in schools and let businesses use deadly force against intruders.

    Republicans say they want to protect Second Amendment rights, but Democrats accuse them of straying from the job-creation platform both parties promised to focus on this year.

    A proposal running simultaneously in the House and Senate would allow concealed weapons on school grounds and college campuses if a person has a permit and another bill would let business owners and employees use deadly force against intruders.

    Conservatives have twisted school massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech to argue that there need to be more guns in schools to fight back against armed attacks. Last year more than a dozen state legislatures took up bills that would allow guns on college campuses — and some even considered lifting their gun bans at K-12 public schools. Florida suspended discussion of their controversial bill after the emotional testimony of a father whose daughter was killed at Florida State University when another student accidentally discharged a rifle.

  9. “That’s four dead innocents we’ve seen mentioned here in the past 30-45 days. Certainly we haven’t seen the stories on every incident since last November. But, we apparently haven’t yet hit the over/under number of what constitutes the unacceptable level of accidental deaths from guns before we do something about guns. I wonder what the number is.”

    According to a poster from Free Republic who claims to have gleaned his numbers from the National Safety Council, here are the numbers of accidental gun deaths in the U.S. Supposedly, the number has steadily been going down, with the numbers in the 1990’s at around 1500-1900.

    The number of fatal firearms accidents for the last five years of record are:

    2002 – 762;

    2003 – 730;

    2004 – 649;

    2005 – 630;

    2006 – 680.

    Assuming these stats are good, and my arithmetic OK, that means that lockjaw kills significantly more people than accidental shootings do every year.

    Maybe we should register rusty nails? :<D

  10. This is a toy-like replica cannon, and is not a “gun.” Any tube that can hold powder and a projectile would work in the same fashion. When I was a kid, I had a homemade “pistol” made of a tube that had a plug at one end and open at the other. I drilled a small hole in the plugged end and used an old dentist’s tool to fish out the fuse of the firecracker I dropped in it. I made a handle out of a piece of scrap wood. It was, for all intent and purpose, a gun. Lit the fuse with a match and waited for it to go off. It would throw a marble a considerable distance.

    I don’t think any of us kids were dumb enough to point it at ourselves or each other, since we understood the ballistics of the thing. We were all raised in the country and guns in the house were a way of life. We had all been drilled in firearm safety. Rule #1 is to never point it at anything you don’t want to kill–and that includes both loaded and unloaded weapons. Rule #2 is to assume all weapons are loaded.

    One of the downsides of all the anti-gun sentiment is that kids are not taught firearm safety, other than “all guns are bad.”

  11. rcampbell-
    Accidental gun deaths are at or near all time lows. I don’t know what an “acceptable” number is. But when we consider a total population of 307 million plus and at least 40 million households with guns, deaths measured in the hundreds seem extraordinarily low. The last year for which we have a number, 2009, saw 554 accidental gun deaths. Compare that to over 3500 deaths by drowning, over 24,000 by falls, and over 31,000 by poisoning.

  12. what rcampbell said! Too many innocents indeed. I think calling it a “toy” cannon is improper. It is obviously a real cannon.

  13. If the manufacturer cannot be held liable, I suggest a lottery system for honest mistakes, where the winner will be incarcerated for a few years.

  14. That’s four dead innocents we’ve seen mentioned here in the past 30-45 days. Certainly we haven’t seen the stories on every incident since last November. But, we apparently haven’t yet hit the over/under number of what constitutes the unacceptable level of accidental deaths from guns before we do something about guns. I wonder what the number is.

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