is the shooting of a firearm
into the air in celebration. It is culturally accepted in the Balkans
, the Middle East
, South Asian regions like India
and in Latin American regions like Puerto Rico
as well as some areas of the United States
. Common occasions for Celebratory gunfire include New Years Day
as well as the religious holidays Christmas
. The practice may result in random death and injury from stray bullets
. Property damage is sometimes another result of celebratory gunfire; shattered windows and damaged roofs are often found after such celebrations. Describing the practice, an American Sheriff
from Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
, David A. Clarke Jr., said, "Even though some consider this a tradition, it is extremely dangerous and a violation of the law. In densely populated urban areas, this behavior is not only illegal, but it's reckless. There is no way of predicting where the bullet will land." However, it is generally not as dangerous if one uses blank rounds
People are injured, sometimes fatally, when bullets discharged into the air fall back down. The mortality rate among those struck by falling bullets is about 32%, compared with about 2 – 6% normally associated with gunshot wounds. The higher mortality is related to the higher incidence of head wounds from falling bullets.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 80% of celebratory gunfire-related injuries are to the head, feet, and shoulders. In the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, about two people die and about 25 more are injured each year from celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve, the CDC says. Between the years 1985 – 1992, doctors at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, California treated some 118 people for random falling-bullet injuries. 38 of them died.
Kuwaitis celebrating in 1991 at the end of the Gulf War by firing weapons into the air caused 20 deaths from falling bullets.
Firearms expert Julian Hatcher studied falling bullets and found that .30 caliber rounds reach terminal velocities of 300 feet per second (90 m/s) and larger .50 caliber bullets have a terminal velocity of 500 feet per second (150 m/s).
A bullet traveling at only 150 feet per second (46 m/s) to 170 feet per second (52 m/s) can penetrate human skin,
and at less than 200 feet per second (60 m/s), it can penetrate the skull.
A bullet that does not penetrate the skull may still result in an intracranial injury.
In 2005, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) ran education campaigns on the dangers of celebratory gunfire in Serbia and Montenegro.
In Serbia, the campaign slogan was "every bullet that is fired up, must come down.
Bullets often lodge in roofs, causing minor damage that requires repair in most cases. Normally, the bullet will penetrate the roof surface through to the roof deck, leaving a hole where water may run into the building. If the damage is not discovered and repaired, the leak can cause more costly water damage
to the structure.
- Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III noted the drop in stray bullet injuries in that country over the 2005 year end holiday period to 19 cases from 33 cases in 2004.
- The amount of complaints regarding random shooting in Dallas, Texas on New Year's Eve have declined from approximately 1,000 in 1999 to 800 in both 2001 and 2002.
- In early 2008, increased partisanship in Lebanon has led to the practice of firing celebratory gunfire in support when politicans appear on local television, leading to multiple deaths, and calls from these leaders to end the practice.
- December 1859: An autopsy showed a native servant in India, who suddenly fell dead for no apparent reason, was mortally wounded from a bullet fired from a distance too far for the shot to be heard. The falling bullet had sufficient energy to pass through the victim's shoulder, a rib, a lung, his heart and diaphragm.
- December 31, 1994: A tourist from Boston was killed by a falling bullet from celebratory firing while walking on the Moonwalk in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The Police Department there has been striving to educate the public of the danger since then, frequently making arrests for firing into the air.
- July 22, 2003 more than 20 people were reported killed in Iraq from celebratory gunfire following the death of Sadam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay in 2003.
- December 31, 2004: A 75-year-old man in Orlando, Florida was mortally wounded in the heart from a falling bullet just before midnight. Police later traced a gun confiscated from a man firing into the air more than a mile away to the fatal bullet. The shooter was charged with manslaughter.
- January 1, 2005: A stray bullet hit a young girl during New Year celebrations in the central square of downtown Skopje, Macedonia. She died two days later. This incident led to the 2006 IANSA awareness campaign in that country.
- December 28, 2005: A 23-year-old U.S. Army Private on leave after basic training fired a 9 mm pistol into the air in celebration with friends, according to police, and one of the bullets came through a fifth floor apartment window in the New York City borough of Queens, striking a 28-year-old mother of two in the eye. Her husband found her lifeless body moments later. The shooter had been drinking the night before, and turned himself in to police the next morning when he heard the news. He was charged with second-degree manslaughter and weapons related crimes, and was later found guilty and sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison.
- February 25, 2007: Five people were killed by stray bullets fired at a kite festival in Lahore, Pakistan, including a 6-year-old schoolboy who was struck in the head near his home in the city's Mazang area.
- July 29, 2007: At least four people were reported killed, and 17 others wounded from celebratory gunfire in the capital city of Baghdad, Iraq following the victory of the national football team in the AFC Asian Cup, Celebratory gunfire occurred despite warnings issued by Iraqi security forces and the country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who forbade the gunfire with a religious fatwā.
- In the Republic of Macedonia, a person found guilty of firing off a gun during celebrations faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
- In the United States penalties vary from a misdemeanor to a felony in different states:
- In Arizona, firing a gun into the air was raised from a misdemeanor to a felony by Shannon's law, in response to the death of a 14-year-old from a stray bullet in 1999.
- In California, discharging a firearm into the air is a felony punishable by three years in state prison. If the stray bullet kills someone, the shooter can be charged with murder.
- In Minnesota, it is illegal to discharge a firearm over a cemetery, or at or in a public transit vehicle. Additionally, local governments may regulate the "discharge" of a weapon within their jurisdictions.
- In Ohio, discharging a firearm or a deadly weapon in a public place is classified as Disorderly Conduct, a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
- In Texas, random gunfire is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one year in jail and $4,000 fine. Anyone who injures or kills someone with a stray bullet could face more serious felony charges.
- In Wisconsin, criminal charges for this type of offense range from Endangering Safety by Use of a Dangerous Weapon to Reckless Homicide in the event of a death, with penalties ranging from nine months to 25 years in prison."
The non-fiction U.S. cable television
on the Discovery Channel
covered this topic in Episode 50: "Bullets Fired Up"
(original airdate: April 19
). Special effects
experts Adam Savage
and Jamie Hyneman
conducted a series of experiments to answer the question: "Can celebratory gunfire kill when the bullets fall back to earth?" Using pig
carcases, they worked out the terminal velocity of a falling bullet, and had a mixed result, answering the question with all three of the show's possible outcomes: Confirmed, Plausible and Busted. They tested falling bullets by firing them from both a hand gun
and a rifle
, an air gun designed to propel them at terminal velocity, and by dropping them in the desert from an instrumented balloon. The "busted" result applied only to bullets travelling on a perfectly vertical trajectory, which tumble on the way down, creating turbulence that reduces terminal velocity. The "plausible" result was cited because they found it was very difficult to fire a bullet in near ideal vertical trajectory, so bullets were likely to remain spin stabilized on a ballistic trajectory, and fall at a potentially lethal terminal velocity. The "confirmed" result related to their research which verified cases of actual deaths from falling bullets.
- "Falling bullets: terminal velocities and penetration studies", by L. C. Haag, Wound Ballistics Conference, April 1994, Sacramento, California.