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Celebratory Gunfire On New Year's Eve Is, Unsurprisingly, Dangerous

Shooting your gun into the air on New Year's Eve — or any celebratory gunfire, for that matter — can have deadly consequences. That might seem obvious, but along with party poppers, fireworks and champagne, it remains a staple at some celebrations.

A 1994 study by researchers from the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the University of California, Los Angeles found that the mortality rate for patients hit by spent bullets falling from the sky after celebratory fire was "significantly higher" than other gunshot wound victims.

"For every bullet fired into the air, someone doesn't [always] get hurt, and so it may look as if it's a pretty innocent and celebratory activity," said Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, dean of the College of Medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. "But, quite honestly, for those who are hurt, especially the fatalities, it's a tragedy that extends, beyond the individual into the family and the community — and it certainly destroys a celebration."

For residents in Dallas, growing up with celebratory gunfire is pretty normal.

Paul Perez lives in Oak Cliff, but grew up two blocks from Mockingbird Lane and Maple Avenue.

One New Year’s Eve, about eight years ago, Perez was at a house with an old, steel awning. There was so much celebratory gunfire that it didn’t sound like bullets.

“It was hailing, you can hear them hitting the awning,” Perez recalls. “It’s funny and it’s not funny at the same time, it sounded like hail.”

That danger was a little closer to home for Charlie Fowler, who has lived in Kessler Park for the last 50 years.

On New Year’s Eve in 2013, he left his covered patio to read a book. But quickly darted back outside. A loud boom sound startled him.

A bullet went through his patio, leaving a noticeable, brown dent.

“I love to hear the fireworks and all that stuff, but it’s too dangerous, that thing missed us by four feet,” Fowler said.

Listen to Fowler's story.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also studied this issue by looking at celebratory gunfire injuries during New Year's Eve celebrations in Puerto Rico, which had a population of almost 4 million people then, between Dec. 31, 2003, and Jan. 1, 2004.

The CDC considers the 2004 research "historical" because the data hasn't been updated, but at that time, researchers found that the most common body part injured by celebratory gunfire was the head.

Dr. Prothrow-Stith has one tip for those looking to ring in 2019.

"There are a lot of different ways to celebrate," she said. "Shooting bullets should not be one of them."

KERA is a part of Guns & America, a new national reporting collaborative of 10 public media newsrooms focusing attention on the role of guns in American life. You can find more Guns & America coverage here, and learn more about the collaboration here.

Anthony Cave reports gun culture as part of a new national reporting collaborative called Guns & America.