It's unavoidable. Every year, just like clockwork, the night that is December 31st leads to celebrations round the world. Here in the US, it seems we like to blow up a little more fireworks than the rest of the world does. In fact, many of us like to get some gunplay in. Unfortunately, this gunplay leads to deaths and injuries that are very preventable.
Midnight approaches, the ball drops, the countdown intensifies, and then all heck breaks loose. Some kiss. Some toast. Some hug. Some fire off roman candles and bottle rockets. Some grab that old .38 that hasn't been fired all year or the .270 that's been in the closet for five and rip off a few rounds skyward. Well the problem with the last is, those rounds always end up somewhere.
A bullet fired from a high-velocity rifle into the atmosphere can remain in flight for almost a full minute depending on its arc, local meteorological conditions, size, and velocity. This same bullet, tumbling back to earth inevitably due to gravity, can still come in at speeds of over 300fps as far as two miles away. That's enough to maim or kill.
In many urban centers, the ten minutes before and after the ball dropping on New Year's Eve can sound like a Syrian firefight. Miami police reportedly are ordered to officially take cover from falling bullets during that frantic 20-minute window for concern over officer safety. In Los Angeles over 500 calls from citizens complaining about indiscriminate gunfire come in every New Years.
Jacksonville had 259 calls last year alone, including one that zipped through a private plane humming along at 1200-feet, injuring the pilot.
Even firing into the ground can be dangerous. Striking a rock, buried cement, or pipes can cause a ricochet, as can frozen ground (remember, its December). While ricochets are not generally fatal, they can severely injure bystanders, especially kids. Do you really want to have to rush yours or someone else's child to the hospital on New Year's Eve due to a ricochet that was unavoidable? Besides the injury, you could be held liable for both criminal and civil charges. Remember, every bullet fired away from a safe range can always land in court.
Do you really want to start the New Year there? On the bright side some places may have it worse.
Philippines go to extremes
It seems that New Years is not just as issue here in the states. In the Philippines at least 16 people, including four police officers, who were arrested for indiscriminate firing during last year's revelry. According to the Philippine Star the Philippine National Police (PNP) has linked up with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to show that the government wants to set the example to prevent officers and soldiers from engaging in celebratory gunfire along that Pacific archipelago.
Their solution? Having their members in a public ceremony tape the muzzles of their guns--to include pistols and long arms. Sure, it's symbolic as you can always get more tape, but still.
"This traditional gun muzzling is a strong message to all gun owners, especially our policemen and soldiers who are the primary enforcers of the law, to refrain from firing their guns and help prevent casualties and injuries during the revelry of the yuletide," PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said.
Incidentally, the PNP uses some 74,000 Glock 17s as the new standard sidearm for that country's lawdogs.
In the spirit of being completely frank and earnest here (in New York, I tell the ladies my name is Frank, and in Chicago, it's Ernest, ahah), I have, on occasion, fired the occasional smoke pole on New Year's Eve. You see, not only is it a holiday, its also my birthday. Well, growing up in the South in a military family that treated hunting as a religion, you tend to get firearms for your birthday. This inevitably wound up with test firing those B-day gatts during the NYE revelry. Of course, it was always directed into a berm set up in the backyard for just that purpose (who doesn't have a backyard shooting range in the South?), and not into the sky or the ground.
Although there was an issue one year where Stretch Armstrong was talking smack and got his just desserts on the receiving end of a new Ted Williams 12-gauge. Stretch didn't make it to see New Year's Day on that occasion. But yes, even that was 'into the berm.'
Fireworks and firearms very rarely should intertwine. Especially on events, like New Year's Eve, where people of all sorts of backgrounds and liquid embedment mix. Weird things can happen. I do know a friend with a large collection of black powder revolvers who will fire off a few dozen or so No11 caps into the ground (with no powder or shot) at the stroke of midnight from a brace of his six-shooters. Still, even he does it while wearing leather boots and gloves over a safe patch of earth away from other people.
This is about the safest video we could find dealing with the marriage of the two.
Kirsten Joy Weiss shows us what happens when you shoot party poppers with a match grade .22 rifle. This is about as wild as we can safely say you can get with firearms this New Years. Enjoy! PS. in the interest of journalistic integrity, we remind you to wear eyepro at all times when engaging in the shooting sports.
Happy New Year. Here's to a safe 2015!