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Remember the Lionel Ritchie song “Celebration?” The lyrics included, “There’s a party goin’ on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years. So bring your good times and your laughter too, we’re gonna celebrate your party with you.”

So if there’s a party going on, should you carry? There are just too many incidents of party-crashers with deadly intent to suggest otherwise. Of course, if you are carrying, you can’t drink alcohol. If you down one beer or one glass of alcoholic party punch and there’s an incident in which you have to draw — not to mention actually fire — the police and the district attorney will, as they say, “be all over you.”

But we all know these things. None of us drink and carry or shoot just to hear the gun go bang. Only fools fall into that category, right?

So, consider these deaths:

  1. July 1, 2017: Noah Inman, 13, is struck in his head while playing basketball in the street outside his house. It’s around 9:30 p.m. in the 7300 block of Harrison Avenue, Hammond, Indiana — a Chicago suburb — when the kids say he “suddenly fell down.” He dies a week later.
  2. January 1, 2017: Texas state representative Armando Martinez, D-Welasco, is wounded in the head by a stray bullet during a New Year’s celebration. He undergoes surgery to remove the object and says the bullet “felt like a sledgehammer hitting the back of my head.”
  3. And this one is a bit dated, but nevertheless important. June 14, 1999: Arizona, A fourteen-year-old girl, Shannon Smith, is struck on the top of her head by a bullet and killed while in the backyard of her home. A year later, this incident results in Arizona enacting “Shannon’s Law,” which makes the discharge of a firearm into the air illegal.

You say well, you would never do such a thing. You would never want to be responsible for hurting an innocent person, but my guess is that many of us have seen what’s called “celebratory gunfire.” It’s common in movies.

It seems so innocent, firing up into the air. I mean, what are the chances that a bullet will hit someone or cause any real damage? Bullets fired into the air usually fall back with terminal velocities quite a bit lower than their muzzle velocity. But apparently it isn’t that simple or innocent. I mean, the bullet goes up and probably stops — reaches zero feet per second — and then just falls, right? So what’s the issue here?

For one thing, when you fire into the air, it’s almost impossible to fire exactly straight up. And even if you did, there’s wind and atmospheric layering that affect a bullet. A bullet fired exactly vertical and not affected by wind or the rotation of the earth and fell straight back down would tumble and lose velocity, but a bullet fired unthinking, perhaps propelled by a few beers in the shooter’s gut, is going to travel in an arc and that means deadly.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 80 percent of celebratory gunfire-related injuries are to the head, feet, and shoulders — as you might expect. In Puerto Rico, two people die and 25 more are injured each year from celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve. From 1985 to 1992, doctors at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles treated 118 people for random falling-bullet injuries. Thirty-eight of them died.

I haven’t found any recent research on falling-bullet dynamics, nothing much since those widely quoted from a 1920 work by a “Major General Julian Hatch, U.S. Army firearms expert” (a .30-caliber bullet will reach terminal velocities of 300 feet per second on descent), but if you do find something, please share.

Meanwhile, for heaven’s sake, remember that what goes up must come down and if — in that thousand to one chance — your descending bullet hits some innocent person, it very well may kill him or her. So no matter how happy you are that your butt-ugly, drooling niece or nephew has finally found a mate, please keep that sidearm holstered.

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