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"Utah Teen Fatally Shoots Self With Miniature Toy Cannon" says the headline at KSNT, a CBS affiliate in Las Vegas.

Tremonton Police Chief David Nance says the boy was playing with the toy in his living room about 7:30 a.m. Monday when the cannon somehow went off. The boy was struck in the face and was pronounced dead at the scene.

First off - just because you treat it like a toy, doesn't mean it really *is* a toy in the conventional sense of the word.  If it expels hard projectiles at speed (like a bb gun) then it is a toy that requires supervised training and overwatch, and a little extra care.  All of which may well have been provided by this family, I don't know the details. But I do know that young budding armorers are capable of siphoning off some powder and a bb or two for their own purposes - and I'm not really here to pile on the family, they're beating themselves with bats right now regardless of the details.

I'm mostly snarking crappy reporting by the CBS people, and possibly muddled speech by the Chief, who probably doesn't spend a lot of time with a microphone shoved in his face.  But there aren't any quote marks in the article.

However, the real purpose here is a cautionary tale for anyone buying something like this - or any muzzle-loading firearm: toy cannon or Civil War musket.  Unless it's coming to you new, in the box, don't assume it's empty.  Especially if it's not new.

Check it.

I bought a French M1822 flint-to-percussion conversion musket at a gun show.  When I got it home, I pulled the ramrod and put it down the barrel. I always do this to muzzle loaders- I didn't at the gun show itself because the seller was one of those types who really don't want you to touch their stuff, much less check it thoroughly, so I did it first thing at home.  The rod "thumped" down, rather than landing with a metallic ring.  It made a soft landing, and it didn't go down far enough.  Marking where the muzzle was on the rod with my thumb, I pulled the rod and then laid it along the outside of the barrel.  It went down just far enough to indicate that there might well be a load in the gun.  

It could also have been cleaning wadding.  In the case of this musket, it was a proper load which I had to remove using a ball puller and compressed air.

The cannon in the story "somehow" went off.  It went off because it was charged.  I don't know who charged it.  But it went off because it was loaded.  And like any firearm... "toy" or not, you have to treat them as if they are loaded.  

And teach the young ones to do so, as well.  And then, because I know how I was at that age, you have to hope that the training sticks.  In my case, the "always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction" bit has always been operative.  

But there was this one time, at band camp... a story I won't put in pixels!  Suffice it to say, it's never wrong to reinforce safe weapon handling rules.  Even when they roll their eyes at you.


I remember when you got that M1822, and the energy surrounding your discovery.  IIRC, you let the seller know what you thought of his shipping practices!!  ML
Actually, that was a *different* weapon, Mike.  This one I mention in the post I got at a gun show in Topeka when I was stationed at Fort Riley in the 80's.

But yeah, you're right, I got a different one that was shipped with a charge in it, too!  The M1842...
It's amazing any of us survived childhood.
My father is one of those kids who used to save their pennies to buy black powder and make it go boom.  He wasn't bit, but his friend got a face of sand and unburnt powder once.  Watching him get it scrubbed out of his skin with a wire brush convinced my dad to find a better hobby.
Pretty sure I know which gun they're talking about. 

It's highly unlikely it went off spontaneously.  Bet the kid was using firecracker fuzes or something similar. 

Sad.  Like MAJ Mike said, it's amazing any of us survived. 

This one, or one like it. There are several types.
 The founder of Walker Arms in Alabama was once an Army Ordnance Corps Officer who helped the Nationalist Chinese set up there arms manufacture and maintenance facilities (he was also the author of a a gunsmithing book for the popular press). He took a rifle from a client and placed it in the rack for one the Gunsmiths in the shop to do whatever work had been ordered. Later the Gunsmith doing to work asked Walker if he was the one that took the piece in. After Walker answered yes, the Gunsmith then shucked 5 live rounds out of the mag and gave them to Walker.

Even the most experienced can screw up by the numbers. My attitude is the weapon is always loaded unless I cleared it and removed the bolt.
If anything, familiarity breeds carelessness.  You have to make it a conscious thing.
 The lack of quote marks means a lack of accountability, aka CYA. This is in reference to  the article you linked to in this post. IMHO, *very poor reporting*!
 As I recall, Walker said he was quite embarassed by the incident. I sure would have been.
I have to agree with Major Mike twice in one day. I did some stuff that should have sent me to the hospital several times.

I once emptied out some shotgun shells for the powder and filled a Folger's instant coffee jar with it. I used a fuse from a smoke bomb and, having just watched Stalag 17, used a cigarette (which I swiped from my older brother) for a timer. Made an impressive amount of damage, at least to my 10-year-old mind.
My brothers and I used to make our own blackish powder.  Not suitable for guns, but pipebombs were possible.  Rule #1 was, we could only make / use the stuff when Dad was supervising and making sure we followed all the other rules.  We had that point driven home when a friend of my brother's learned our formula and technique and damn near killed himself and others by getting careless making a charge.
Still remember our method, alas, you can't get the parts anymore. :/
Wowzers!!  People agreeing with me!?!

As a kid/teenager I helped my father train horses and give riding lessons.  I had been thrown from horses exactly the way Chris Reeves had but suffered no injury.  Skill is good, but luck can be a real force multiplier.

Forcing yourself to go through the same sequence of behavior when dealing with anything dangerous helps to lessen the bad luck factor.  Too many people get too casual with firearms because they either are untrained or over confident.