Happy bullet free New Year

Bingo lottery balls 2016 and fireworks

Every year there are senseless gun deaths and injuries due to celebratory gun fire. One has to wonder why those who shoot off their guns on New Years Eve don’t have common sense. Perhaps they don’t understand that bullets have a trajectory that ends somewhere. What goes up must come down. An article from The Trace explains how dangerous this practice is. From the article:

In the 48 communities where ShotSpotter’s equipment is deployed, the company reports, “Statistics show that there are strong seasonal gunfire periods, where approximately 15 percent of all annual gunfire incidents take place on the holidays around New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and the Fourth of July.” In the fourth quarter of 2014, according to ShotSpotter, “there were 16,597 incidents in ShotSpotter coverage areas, and of those, 3,556 (or 21.4 percent) took place during the New Year’s Eve period.” The overwhelming majority of those rounds will land harmlessly or lodge in roofs or other property. But in areas with high population density, some will inevitably hit human beings. And so, each year before the holiday season, police, city officials, and activists from California to Ohio to Texas to Florida are compelled to call on their communities to refrain from spraying bullets skyward.

The impoverishment of data notwithstanding, it’s safe to stipulate at this point that the odds of any single person’s being hit by a celebratory round are extremely low. Even contentious research on stray shootings in general acknowledges that celebratory gunfire (wounds from “falling bullets”) represents less than 5 percent of all firearm-related injuries.

Though the odds are low, tell that to the families of those who have been killed or injured by celebratory gun fire. Every year, my friend Joe Jaskolka and his father Greg have a press event to let people know that celebratory gunfire is, indeed, very dangerous. Joe was hit by a bullet in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1998 when he was just 11. Joe is living with the results of that bullet lodged in his head. He is now 28 years old and lives in a wheel chair suffering from ongoing physical disabilities. But he stays involved in the issue of gun violence prevention by warning others of the danger of celebratory gun fire. Joe’s a great young man and I’m happy to call him my friend and colleague. From the above article:

“This is very simple,” said Joe Jaskolka, “what goes up must come down.”

“We went from having an annual New Year’s Eve party to having an annual press conference,” his father, Gregory Jaskolka, said.

So this New Year’s Eve, please use common sense and don’t fire off a gun to celebrate the coming of 2016. For if 2016 is like other years, innocent people will be killed or injured tonight and every day of the new year. Bullets fired into the air or anywhere else cause trauma and devastating results for many American families. Let’s make 2016 a safer year than 2015. Below is a graph provided by the Gun Violence Archive showing the results of shootings in 2015.

2015 toll of gun violence

This does not include the many suicides which are not usually publicly available. The actual yearly numbers are over 100,000 total gunshot injuries of which about 33,000 have ended in death. It’s hard to keep track of all of the incidents given the amazingly large number of them.

We must be better than this. Join us in 2016 to make our communities safer from devastating gun violence. There are many organizations working on this issue. Find one in your area or that interests you and add your voice to those demanding a change to the conversation and a change to our laws. You can be part of the solution to our nation’s public health and safety epidemic. It’s past time for change.

 

UPDATE:

The first reported case of someone struck by a stray bullet in celebratory gunfire has been reported. A Las Vegas area teen was struck by a bullet early this morning and was hospitalized.

Bullets and fireworks

Fireworks set to glow with hearts and stars on a black background
Fireworks set to glow with hearts and stars on a black background

July 4th is the iconic American holiday. I plan to spend it with my family at our cabin enjoying the sun and the water as well as time spent together. We will go to a nearby fireworks display as will millions of Americans. Every year, people are harmed by fireworks of some kind. Last year, several were killed, including this Detroit man. From the article:

It happened following a barbecue on Plainview. A witness says the victim picked up an explosive to set it off when it shot in his direction.

“I tried to notify the media, the legislature, anyone I could that legalizing these powerful professional-grade fireworks is wrong for Michigan,” said retired police sergeant David Malhalab. “There is no price you can put on a life, a hand, a child, an eye, a mother or a father.”

So legislatures also have regulated certain types of fireworks because of their potential to harm citizens. There are known risks, including fires started by fireworks. This report, including numbers for injuries, deaths and fires, shows the dangers of fireworks. In 2014 over 10,000 people were treated for fireworks related injuries and 11 people died. Young children were among the highest age group treated for injuries. Most of these were from misuse or malfunctioning of the fireworks.

So the take away here is that caution should be practiced when using fireworks. Because of dry conditions, the state of Oregon is warning citizens about potential fireworks bans if conditions become worse.

So we know that fireworks can be harmful and hopefully your own family will be safe from any injuries or problems associated with the usual fireworks displays or family celebrations with smaller fireworks.

We also know that guns can be harmful and celebratory gunfire on this holiday has caused “accidental” injuries and deaths. Given that gun owners should understand that bullets that are fired into the air must come down somewhere, it’s really hard to understand why celebratory gunfire still occurs. Warnings are already issued in some places:

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office will be taking a zero tolerance stance on any and all illegal gun use and gun crime during the holiday.

“There are many ways to safely celebrate with family and friends. Discharging  a firearm is NOT one of them,” said Sheriff Al Nienhuis.  “It’s just too easy for people to get hurt.  Leave the firearms at home, in a safe and secure location.”

Good advice. But it will not be followed by some who feel the need to bring their guns with them wherever they go. From the reports above, the risks of being injured by fireworks are greater than any risk of having to use a gun for self defense in a public place where families gather to enjoy the holiday celebrations.

For example, this Missouri woman was injured when someone at the July 4th celebration she was attending stupidly shot a gun into the air and the bullet that came down lodged in her face:

A stray bullet hit a Missouri woman just under her eye while she was watching fireworks on Independence Day.

The bullet is thought to have come from a rambunctious reveler who shot his gun into the air to honor our freedoms. Spoiler alert: Celebratory gunfire is not one of them.

“I’m sure they were celebrating,” Janet Brewer told the Daily News. “There was no one around us who had guns. It had to come from a distance.”

Brewer, of Fenton, is not against the Second Amendment but thinks irresponsible gun ownership is “way out of hand.”

“We are trying to get out there just how dangerous shooting something in the air can be,” she said. “I’m just lucky to be here. If it were an inch higher, it would have gone through my eye and gone through my head and killed me.”

The second amendment does not guarantee that one can do anything with one’s gun. With rights come responsibilities. Let’s look at more incidents involving stupid and dangerous behavior with guns on July 4th.

An 11 year old Kansas girl died when a bullet fired from over a mile away hit her and killed her during a July 4th celebration. Here is a quote from the girl’s mother:” “A gun is not a toy; it should not be out at any point of celebration, because that’s how my daughter lost her life. A bullet traveled quite a distance and hit her in the neck,” she said.”

A gun is not a toy. It’s a weapon designed to kill and needs to be treated as such. Here’s an article about a 7 year old Virginia child who was killed by July 4th celebratory gun fire and about celebratory gun fire in general. Gun rights advocates and gun violence prevention advocates all agree that people should not shoot guns into the air.

My state of Minnesota has passed some strict regulations about where certain kinds of fireworks can be used and which ones are banned. Some fireworks are not allowed in public places and some are banned for private citizens. So here’s a question? Most fireworks are not allowed in public spaces but loaded guns are. Does this make any sense? I say no. It’s time to think through what public safety actually means. If it’s not safe for fireworks in public, why is it safe to allow people to carry guns in public places? Isn’t it time for this to change?

July 4th should be a holiday for fun and time with families and friends. And it should be a safe time for all. So be careful out there with fireworks and take the advice of the Sheriff from the above article: “Leave the firearms at home in a safe and secure location.”

Happy 4th to all.