Thursday, December 29, 2005

Celebratory gun firing - good idea or not?

I was interviewed for a newspaper article today because the writer was looking for similar but safer things to do on New Year’s Eve than fire guns up into the air. She thought my book Backyard Ballistics might be a source of better alternatives.

I must live in a relatively shielded environment because I thought firing guns up the air to celebrate something wasn’t really a common practice outside of, say, Baghdad or Beirut. Turns out I was wrong. There is apparently a long standing tradition among some regarding what the police call “celebratory firing.”

How dangerous is the practice of celebratory firing?

Well, a lot of people think that retired army General JS Hatcher’s book, called Hatcher’s Notebook is probably the most complete treatment of gun facts ever written. Hatcher describes several studies conducted to figure out just how dangerous this practice is. Bottom line of these studies, says he, is that the terminal velocity of your typical bullet coming back down varies a lot but is normally more than 200 feet per second.

And, other writers on the subject (there have been quite a few) say that tests on cadavers show that skin is punctured and underlying organs messed up (my words, not theirs) at bullet velocities that exceed 180 feet per second. And, since falling bullets typically strike people in the head or shoulders, this appears to me to be a very dangerous practice.

In Los Angeles county, many people have been injured and (according to some sources) killed by the practice, so many in fact, that celebratory firing is a felony.


Anonymous said...

My grandfather used to fire his Enfield to greet the new year.

Being familiar with the wartime use of the rifle, he always fired it down, into the ground.

Anonymous said...

A soldier on leave from Iraq shot a "celebretory" shot and killed a mother of two in Queens NY yesterday. Yeah, I would say its not such a good idea. Mayby people ought to shoot in to the ground in celebration!

missbhavens said...

A young Mom in New York just died of a wound through her eye from a bullet fired outside her building straight into the air. She had gone to the window to check on the noise. I think she was on the fourth floor.

And it isn't even New Year's yet...

Anonymous said...

Queens Woman Killed by Stray Bullet Through Her Window

December 30, 2005

It is not clear what prompted Selina Akther to move toward a window of her fifth-floor apartment in Queens, the police said. Her two children were sleeping and her husband was on a phone call to Bangladesh in another room, so they did not see the stray bullet that crashed through the closed window and hit her in her right eye, leaving her an unintended homicide victim.
The Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said last night that Danny Carpio, 23, had been charged with manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon, both in the second degree, and was being held pending arraignment in Queens criminal court in Kew Gardens. Mr. Carpio, an Army private on home leave from Fort Hood, Tex., fired the gun when he ran into friends in the street after a night of revelry, said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Place of Stuff! said...

I've always wondered, seeing videos of various strongmen and dictors firing rifles into the air before a cheering crowd, what happens to the bullets. Has there ever been a case of someone getting hit by this?

bioanarchism said...

the link for Hatcher's Notebook is broken.

but nonetheless, this is rather interesting.

Trackback here ->

Anonymous said...

What Would Brian Boitano Do? :)

Anonymous said...

To be safe, I'd say these people should fire their weapons into that big round thing on their shoulders.

Anonymous said...

Participant at KKK initiation wounded after shots fired into sky

Anonymous said...

personally, i only run when i'm being chased, &
i only fire when returnig fire ...i dont like to hear anything louder than a champagne cork popping in celebration

Anonymous said...

Being familiar with the wartime use of the rifle, he always fired it down, into the ground.

The correct wartime use of a rifle is to always fire at the ground?

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd mention (in response to Crosius' comment) that shooting into the ground isn't particularly safe either, since there may be rocks just below the soil surface that can cause unpredictable ricochets or fragmentation. If you really want to make loud noises, scare the neighbors or attract law enforcement attention, use blanks or fireworks.

D Bob said...

I've always thought this was an asinine thing to do and am disappointed to hear that this happens so goddamn often. I always associated it with tribal societies and rebelious groups, probably (& unfortunately) because of media representations. Chalk it up to general human stupidity, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Celebratory shooters should act in a socially responsible way, and aim for their own heads.

Anonymous said...

My uncle has a small hole in his the roof on his back porch and the bullet the caused it in a dish as a reminder. He lives in New Orleans where the practice is common.

Anonymous said...

Isnt't it impossible for any object to fall faster than 9.81 m/s or 32.2 feet/s?
Unless the bullet is a ricochet, where do the 200 feet/s come from?
Where's my error?


William Gurstelle said...

The number you're thinking of is 32 feet/second/second which is an acceleration, not a velocity. This means that gravity will increase the velocity of a falling object by 32.2 feet per second for each second of free fall. (But that's in a vacuum. At some point, air resistance will become so great the acceleration stops) Hope this helps

Bill Gurstelle

Milan said...


Quite right. The velocity of the bullet at impact would depend on how high it fell from, the viscosity of the fluid (air) through which it is traveling, and the coefficient of friction between the bullet and the air. Depending on the amount of kinetic energy the bullet left the gun with, and the angle at which it was fired, the first of those things could be very high indeed.


Anonymous said...

VCSi Forums - How dangerous is it to shoot straight up? [several answers from different sources]:

Question: Assuming the barrel of the gun is perpendicular to the ground when the bullet leaves it, approximately what altitude would it reach and what is its velocity (and potential lethality) when it falls back to Earth?

Answer [#2]: Different bullet types behave in different ways. A .22LR bullet reaches a maximum altitude of 1179 metres and a terminal velocity of either 60 metres per second or 43 metres per second depending upon whether the bullet falls base first or tumbles. A .44 magnum bullet will reach an altitude of 1377 metres and a terminal velocity of 76 metres per second falling base first. A .30-06 bullet will reach an altitude of 3080 metres with a terminal velocity of 99 metres per second. The total flight time for the .22LR is between 30 and 36 seconds, while for the .30-06, it is about 58 seconds. The velocities of the bullets as they leave the rifle muzzle are much higher than their falling velocities. A .22LR has a muzzle velocity of 383 metres per second and the .30-06 has a muzzle velocity of 823 metres per second.

According to tests undertaken by Browning at the beginning of the century and recently by L .C. Haag, the bullet velocity required for skin penetration is between 45 and 60 metres per second which is within the velocity range of falling bullets. Of course, skin penetration is not required in order to cause serious or fatal injury and any responsible person will never fire bullets into the air in this manner.

The bullet's altitude and return velocity lessens with the angle at which it's fired. Due to wind, once a bullet goes up, you never know exactly where it may come down:

Julian S. Hatcher records a similar experiment in Florida immediately after the First World War. A 0.30 calibre machine gun was set up on a 10 feet square stage in a sea inlet where the water was very calm so that the returning bullets could be seen to splash down. A sheet of armour above the stage protected the experimenters. The gun was then adjusted to centre the groups of returning bullets onto the stage.

Of over 500 bullets fired into the air, only 4 hit the stage at the end of their return journey. The bullets fired in each burst fell in groups of about 25 yards across.

The bullets rose to approximately 9000 feet before falling back. With a total flight time of about a minute, the wind has a noticeable effect on the return point.

Anonymous said...

Shannon's Law outlaws celebratory shooting in Arizona:

Shannon Smith was just 14 years old when she was killed by a stray bullet from a gun used in the practice of celebratory gunfire (guns that are fired into the air as part of a celebration). A typical teen, Shannon was in the backyard of her parent's home talking on the phone to a friend on that Monday, June 14, 1999, when from out of the sky, a bullet stuck her, killing her instantly, ending her brief life. In their grief and out of determination to take action that would result in the elimination of this dangerous practice, Shannon's parents, Otis and Lory Smith set out to change the law. Their hard work led to the passage of what is called, "Shannon's Law." In the State of Arizona it is now a class 6 felony to engage in celebratory gunfire.

Heads up in Iraq, though:

Soccer Win Sparks Celebratory Fusillade in Baghdad

The rounds actually falling on the compound sounded like fat drops of rain. "When it first started I thought it was rain," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Scott Graham. "I was in my trailer, and I wondered how it could rain without a cloud in the sky."

Coalition personnel stood under overhangs just as people take cover from a particularly bad thunderstorm. They stood and waited for the rain of bullets to stop. "I know it's a gun culture here, but somebody could get killed," Marine Maj. Timothy Keefe, who watched the "fireworks" from the back entrance to the embassy, said.

The celebratory gunfire lasted approximately 45 minutes. Coalition officials said there were no American casualties.

Anonymous said...

I live in Detroit...the gunfire will start at 11 or so, and continue til 1 or so. THe police are not on the street at that time...too dangerous. Police and polcie stations are frequent targets. There are always a few deaths as a result.

Anonymous said...

call it poetic justice... this story seems to be non-anecdotal, anyway:

Bullet wounds KKK initiation participant

The Associated Press
11/24/2003, 12:31 p.m. CT

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — A bullet fired in the air during a Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony came down and struck a participant in the head, critically injuring him, authorities said.

Gregory Allen Freeman, 45, was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in the Saturday night incident that wounded Jeffery S. Murr, 24.

About 10 people, including two children, had gathered for the ceremony. The man who was being initiated was blindfolded, tied with a noose to a tree and shot with paintball guns as Freeman fired a pistol in the air to provide the sound of real gunfire, Sheriff Fred Phillips said.

A bullet struck Murr on the top of the head and exited at the bottom of his skull, authorities said.

Freeman fled the ceremony but was arrested near his home, authorities said. He was released on $7,500 bail.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

cstatman said...

Wow, I did not think aout this in time, it could have been THE TICKET to handling my back yard neighbors uncontrolled, unloved, unruly barking dog....


Anonymous said...

I live in a small town (less than 800 residents) where every one (and I mean everyone) shoots his or her (yes, there are plenty of hers with guns) rifle at the stroke of midnight. Some people do shoot to the ground, but only for the purpose of spraying mud everywhere. As long as I've lived here (all of my life), I haven't heard of anyone within the state line who's even gotten scraped up by the wrong side of a bullet. I'm not saying that it's a perfectly safe thing to do, but safetywise, it sure beats the heck out of "just one more beer".

Oh, and if you're planning on falling asleep? Don't. The steady sound of rifles being fired can be heard until at least one in the morning, when they start to die off a little bit (They normally don't stop completely until 4 or 5 AM).

Anonymous said...

Your logic is as flawed as your grammar. Many people drive their cars while drunk on a regular basis and have never killed anyone or even been in an accident. Does this fact negate the very real probability that they will be? Why wait until one or more of the 800 people in your town is killed by a falling bullet? A wise man learns from the mistakes of others!

Fractals said...

I used to live in Wichita, KS and this was very common on the stroke of midnight at New Years. Scared me crazy the first time (since I had just moved there from Maine).

Anonymous said...

all depends on the weight of projectile. a #9 shot or 230 grain ball ammo. get it?

Anonymous said...

hmmm... i never heard anyone shoot their guns at midnight, but i guess i've heard peoples carbide cannons which were really loud because they were huge. yeah, basically if anyone in our neighborhood did that the cops would be there extremely fast.

Anonymous said...

Nice reading your blog, i have it bookmarked