Has celebratory gunfire really become a holiday ritual in the U.S.? I have never witnessed it—or heard it. Some of my neighbors do go out onto their lawns and set off firecrackers or bang pots and pans. I have never counted myself lucky to have such neighbors, but I guess that I do now.
As if the dangers are not obvious, the following article from The Trace warns against the unintended consequences of celebratory gunfire:
Today, we’re updating one of the first articles we published on The Trace. Written by contributor Patrick Blanchfield, it originally ran over the Fourth of July weekend, and explores the havoc that celebratory gunfire can unintentionally wreak.
New Year’s Eve is another night when some Americans cap their festivities by firing guns into the air. And 10-year-old Aaliyah Boyer is one of the casualties of that tradition. In the first minutes of 2013, she collapsed in the backyard of her relatives’ home in Elkton, Maryland. Her parents, who thought she had fainted, attempted CPR. Paramedics rushed her to hospital, where it was discovered that a bullet had fatally struck the back of her head.
Despite mounting a door-to-door search and confiscating several guns for ballistic inspection, authorities still have no idea who shot the round that killed her. While federal regulators track injuries and fatalities from fireworks, there is no such national-level data for casualties from celebratory gunfire, even though the physics of this particular gunfire create a special danger.
Please read on to learn why.
Indeed, the daily newsletter of WBNS-10TV in Columbus, Ohio, includes an article by Shelby Croft titled “Columbus Police Move to End Celebratory Gunfire on New Year’s Eve”:
Police are encouraging people to celebrate New Year’s Eve without firing guns.
It’s a tradition for many on the holiday, but it can be a deadly one.
“It affects me every year,” Rachel Chafins said. “It was horrible.”
New Year’s Eve 1994 on the porch where Chafins now lives, her 11-year-old niece, Glenda, was accidentally killed.
“They went on the front porch and he let her shoot the gun off, it exploded and the metal went in and killed her,” Chafins said.
A complete accident that cost a young girl her life and devastated a family.
That’s why billboards are going up all over town warning about celebratory gunfire. Columbus police don’t want to respond to any more tragedies.
“Celebratory gunfire is illegal, it’s unsafe and it’s endangering our kids,” Deputy Chief Ken Kuebler said.
Police have teamed up with local pastors to get the word out to the community about not firing guns on New Year’s.
They get calls every year from worried residents. One came in last year from the home where Thomas Rothwell lives.
“You never know, stray bullets, you never know where they’ll end up,” Rothwell said.
That’s the fear. Rothwell says it was friends in the home who called 911. And there’s real reason to worry.
“In the short time we’ve been here, there’s been two shootings, one right behind our house and one across the street here,” Rothwell said.
Police say stray bullets can travel miles, accidentally pierce through homes and can be fatal even falling from the sky.
Chafins knows enough now to steer clear of any firearms on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re just staying in, doors shut,” she said.
Police want to stress that it’s illegal to randomly fire guns. Just because other people are doing it, does not mean it’s legal.
I cannot help but wonder if the gun lobby has managed to dilute the penalties for this use of firearms. But perhaps I am letting my biases muddy the issues—that is, perhaps, responsible gun owners can engage in celebratory gunfire safely.
Although I have found a fairly large number of posters discouraging celebratory gunfire, I have also found one promoting it: