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Don't Shoot! Not for New Year's Eve, Anyway

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If you want to shoot guns to ring in the new year, it's a better idea to shoot one like this, rather than a real one.

It's an old tradition -- firing a celebration shot or two into the air to ring in the new year. And it's a tradition police departments say they want to see go away forever.

"Don't do that," says Jay Sanders, director of public safety at the Sulphur Springs Police Department.  “What goes up must come down."

That’s not a cliché, that’s physics. Bullets will always arc and return to the ground, unless they hit something on the way down. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “bullets fired into the air during celebrations fall with sufficient force to cause injury and death.” CDC studies in Puerto Rico, where celebratory gunfire is common, find that two people die and two dozen are injured every year from guns being fired into the air.

In the last four years, Texas has had two serious incidents related to celebratory New Year’s gunfire. On New Year’s Day 2015, a 43-year-old Houston man names Javier Suarez Rivera was killed by a falling bullet while watching fireworks; and in 2017, Texas State Representative Armando Martinez (D-39th) was seriously hurt by a falling bullet on New Year’s Day.

Even for those who escape harm, the calls can be of the very close variety, as KERA reporter Anthony Cave explains in a look at celebratory gunfire incidents in Dallas.

There’s also the matter of property damage. Falling – or worse, arcing – bullets or shells can crash through window, awnings, or porch screens. They can damage roofs or cars or sheds.

Again, Texas has its history with this.

“Bullets have been extracted from a number of roofs in the Houston and surrounding areas,” wrote Edward Robinson, vice president of Professional Engineering Inspections, back in 1999. “The rounds were taken from locations that might surprise you. Affluent neighborhoods were no exception.”

Robinson added that the rounds “were buried to a depth at least equal to their length and some deeper. It is a popular perception that falling bullets are harmless.”

Then, of course, there’s the question of legality. While the laws surrounding discharge of gunfire can be complicated, it is always true that any round fired that leaves private property can lead to arrest and/or fine.  The Texas Tribune reported in 2017 that:

Anyone who fires a gun in a public place without a legitimate reason — you aren’t protecting yourself or shooting in a firing range — is committing disorderly conduct. That's a Class B misdemeanor, meaning you could face up to 180 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine if you're caught.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, the punishment is less severe if you fire your gun "on or across a public road." In that case, it's a Class C misdemeanor — nothing more serious than a traffic ticket.

Just because you might be out in the country is no reason to tempt fate though, says Jay Sanders. Physics work in the country as much as they do in the city. Sanders recommends that if you want something that makes noise, make it something not so potentially damaging.

“Stick with fireworks,” he says. “You’ll be fine.”