Police to Party Goers: Celebratory Gunfire Is Illegal

Hold your fire! Saying that what goes up must come down, Lakeland police are warning people to forego what for many is an annual New Year’s Eve midnight tradition. People raise their guns skyward and welcome the new year by pulling the trigger, often numerous times. It can be deadly, and it’s a felony.

Lakeland Assistant Police Chief Rick Taylor, who heads the patrol division, is all too familiar with celebratory gunfire at midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

Last year, Taylor went on patrol with the officers he oversees. He said they wound up huddled under a roof underhang of a nightclub. He said he and LPD patrol units shelter underneath overhangs at shopping centers, bank drive throughs and under train bridges.

There’s a lot of gunfire on the Fourth of July too, he said. “But on New Year’s Eve it’s all at the same time,” Taylor said.

Patty Allison, LPD’s 911 communications manager, remembers one time when somebody almost got killed by celebratory gunfire here one New Year’s Eve.

Allison, who has 28 years of dispatch service between LPD and Polk County Fire Rescue, said calls for service are quiet on New Year’s Eve until a few minutes after midnight. “That’s when the call volume escalates with possible gunfire calls and noise complaints.”

During her career, she said, she “even had one where someone celebrating by shooting a gun in the air almost killed someone.”

The act became a felony in every state after a stray bullet hit and killed 14-year-old Shannon Smith when she stood in the yard of her Phoenix home n 1999.

Last year, outside Houston, a 61-year-old woman was celebrating the new year by lighting fireworks when she yelled that she was shot. Paramedics could not save her. She died of a gunshot to her neck.

It’s difficult to tell how many people or pets die and are injured by celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve. About 4 percent of gunshot deaths are attributed to celebratory gunfire, but that figure apparently includes instances such as shooting from one home to another or through the ceiling or wall of one apartment into another.

While the result of a being hit by a bullet fired into the sky can be deadly for people and pets, it’s nowhere near as lethal as being shot point-blank.

According to Taylor, a bullet fired straight up can go up as far as two miles with a top speed of 1,500 mph before falling back to Earth. But the air resistance acting on the bullet will prevent it from reaching speeds remotely close to that again. Instead, a falling bullet comes back down with a speed of about 150 miles-per-hour, just 10 percent of the speed it was fired.

But Taylor said that can still be deadly.