Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Gravity Denied

December 28th, 2009 · 6 Comments

Growing up in Los Angeles, we were annually subjected to a series of PSAs cautioning against celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve. In fact, we distinctly remember a police officer visiting our elementary school one year before the holiday break, in order to caution us against going outside in the initial minutes after they calendar’s big turn.

The anti-gunfire campaign continues in L.A., though not without yielding some positive results—it’s been ten years since the city’s last fatality ascribed to celebratory shooting. But the LAPD still logs around 150 reports of the potentially lethal practice each year, which makes us wonder whether it’ll ever totally disappear. Given the practice’s surprisingly long history in the U.S., it seems like it might be too woven into our cultural fabric to vanish:

A seventeenth century Virginia law prohibited shooting “any guns at drinking (marriages and funerals only excepted)….” Maryland, in 1642, also ordered that, “No man to discharge 3 guns within the space of ¼ hour… except to give or answer alarm.” Gunshots were the common method of warning neighbors that the Indians were attacking. Because so many people were shooting guns while celebrating, it was impossible to be certain that gunshots indicated an Indian attack.

Colonial Americans did a lot of shooting, and they weren’t always very careful about what direction those shots went. A statute adopted at the Massachusetts 1713-14 legislative session complained, “Whereas by the indiscreet firing of guns laden with shot and ball within the town and harbour of Boston, the lives and limbs of many persons have been lost, and others have been in great danger, as well as other damage has been sustained…” the legislature prohibited firing of any “gun or pistol” in Boston (“the islands thereto belonging excepted”).

Celebratory gunfire is hardly just an American problem, of course. Our comrades in Macedonia also tend to forget the law of gravity when good times roll around.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    There was a MythBusters episode where they demonstrated that conditions matter a lot when firing bullets up in the air WRT whether or not you’re likely to get killed in the process.

    http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/04/episode_50_bullets_fired_up_vo.html

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Thanks for the link. I can see how the probability of a fatality occurring is really low, even given the large number of shots that are fired each NYE. But it obviously happens, and such deaths are heart-wrenching. If memory serves, there was a kid in L.A. who was killed by a falling bullet while sleeping in his bed. (Disclaimer: That may be a case of my mind playing tricks on me, and taking an urban legend as fact.)

    I wonder if the mass legalisation of fireworks (which are verboten in L.A.) would ameliorate this problem. Or if all the fireworks-related injuries would make the cure worse than the disease.

  • Jordan

    Check out the second to last picture for one of the measures the Philippines is taking to try to prevent deaths caused by celebratory gunfire:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/8433653.stm

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Wow. Is it just me, or are those scraps of paper over the barrels? Do Filipino cops really use such low-caliber firearms?

  • Jordan

    @Brendan

    My guess is that it’s more like wax seals. It’ll be easy to tell whether or not the guns were fired and presumably there will be repercussions if they were.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    See, that’s why I was wise not to pursue a career in law enforcement–your (obv. correct) explanation never even occurred to me.

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