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Published: Monday, 7/1/2013

Celebratory bullets ‘sheer stupidity,’ police say

Holiday gunfire causes damage, sometimes kills

BY LORENZO LIGATO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Every Fourth of July, the booms from fireworks are not the only sounds ringing in Toledo’s smoke-filled skies.

Filling the air with the smell of cordite, bullets fired into the sky have become a common practice to celebrate America’s birthday all across the nation.

The custom of celebratory gunfire, while culturally accepted in the Middle East and South Asia, remains illegal in the United States.

Celebratory shooting poses a great threat to personal property and unaware individuals, as falling bullets can ricochet off walls and lampposts, penetrate glass windows, and occasionally cause injuries or tragic deaths, officials said.

As this year’s Independence Day inches closer, the Toledo Police Department cautioned citizens against the dangers of celebratory gunfire — an issue that, according to Sgt. Tim Noble, has become more widespread in the Toledo area.

Every year, the department receives dozens of calls reporting property or vehicles damaged by stray bullets amid Fourth of July jubilation, Sergeant Noble said.

Numerous reports of celebratory shooting also reach the police department around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, he added.

“It’s just ludicrous how people are so stupid that they take a high-caliber weapon and shoot up in the air,” Sergeant Noble said. “I grew up in the Detroit area, but I don’t recall that ever being a custom.”

Citing a 1962 study by firearms expert Julian Hatcher, Sergeant Noble explained that rounds fired from a 30-caliber handgun reach a velocity of 300 feet per second as they fall — a speed that is far sufficient for the bullet to penetrate human skin or smash a skull, the sergeant said.

Firing a gun into the air is outlawed in a number of states, including Ohio, Arizona, California, and Texas.

Under Ohio law, people discharging firearms into the air are subject to being charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine reaching $2,000.

If the stray bullet injures or kills a person, the shooter can face more serious felony charges up to manslaughter or reckless murder.

“There are all sorts of reasons why one should not shoot up in the air,” Sergeant Noble said. “The bottom line is just common sense: If the bullet goes up, it must come down.”

The Toledo Police Department does not maintain records of deaths or injuries caused by celebratory shooting, Sergeant Noble said.

While he could not recall any fatal injury from celebratory gunfire in Toledo in the past decades, Sergeant Noble said the practice poses a significant hazard to personal safety.

Recent examples of fatal accidents linked to celebratory shooting include the deaths last Fourth of July of a 34-year-old in Lansing and of a 10-year-old in Maryland on New Year’s Eve.

“I can’t imagine the tragedy of someone dying because of someone else’s sheer stupidity,” Sergeant Noble said.

As debate over gun control divides the country, both pro-gun and anti-gun groups in Ohio put their ideological differences aside to express disdain for the practice of celebratory gunfire.

Toby Hoover, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, criticized the indiscriminate use of firearms to celebrate holidays.

“If people are going to own guns, our job is to make them understand the risks and dangers,” Ms. Hoover said. “They need to be aware that they have a weapon in their hands, and it’s not something that should be used to celebrate.”

For Jim Irvine, chairman of the gun-rights advocacy group Buckeye Firearms Association, the practice of holiday gunfire remains an “irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal” action.

“It’s just not acceptable and absolutely stupid,” Mr. Irvine said. “One of the cardinal rules in firearms is that you are responsible for the gun, and shooting in the air puts other people’s lives at risk.”

According to a 2012 study by Dr. Garen Wintemute, a professor at the University of California at Davis, 6 percent of 284 stray-bullet shootings between March, 2009, and February in the United States occurred during the Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July, or New Year’s holidays.

Contact Lorenzo Ligato at: lligato@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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