More than 1000 shots fired in happiness in Birmingham, AL

One of the things I loved about the two years I lived in Birmingham, AL: Being in a place where people openly and un-ironically fired guns into the air in order to celebrate things. This was something new to me, despite being raised a good country family with high levels of gun ownership. But that was in Kansas. Viva la difference, southern US! For instance, on the 4th of July, 2012, the Birmingham police recorded 1,098 incidents of gunfire (they have a detection system that's able to distinguish between gunshots and fireworks). In 2011, there were only 75 gunshots recorded. In 2010, 495. Which leads me to wonder: Is this random, or is there some factor leading to an increase in celebratory gunfire over the last three years? What social and economic factors affect the number of bullets people are willing to pump into the air?(Via Stan Diel)


    1.  Gunfire is sharper and snappier than fireworks.

      In technical terms, this means that the spectral power density of gunfire’s “bang” has more energy at higher frequencies than a firework’s “boom”.

      1. Never mind that real life gunfire and movie gunfire has little in common (thanks to the latter, we are more likely to confuse the former with the backfire of a old engine).

    1. Maybe I should clarify. When I say “love” I mean “remain confused and horrified by”. I just wanted to clarify that this isn’t a gun ownership thing. I have lots of rural-livin’ family members who own guns. I used to own a gun and once had a hunting permit. And I never saw anybody do this on the 4th of July before I moved to Birmingham. (Although one might argue that getting drunk and setting off M-80s or getting drunk and playing lawn darts with small children are also fairly dangerous family activities. So maybe I can’t judge.) 

      1. ‘When I say “love” I mean “remain confused and horrified by”.’

        Nice clarification. My wife is going to be pissed when I tell her this is what I’ve meant for the last 14 years when I said “I love you.”

      2. So that’s why we don’t have one of the triangulation devices… Over here in Jackson, a few hundred gunshots is an average night, much less the 4th or NYE. I’ve got a friend from Pakistan that found it amusing that he’s seen about the same amount of guns fired into the air here as he did the last time he was back in Pakistan. I found it amusing that his uncle whistled Dixie while he stocked the store.

        1. And yet any video of guns firing at the sky is seen as a sign of barbarism/fanaticism when coming from “over there”…

          1. Well to be fair, it’s generally seen as a sign of inbreeding when it’s done over here. 

      3. Ah, yes, the Internet Sarcasm Indicator was broken for me as well. 

        Come to think of it, that darn thing never worked right in the first place.

  1. “Last year on the Fourth, it rained 1.83 inches.”

    Weather plays a huge factor. In Chicago they can predict how much violent crime will rise based on the average temperature. It’s been much warmer all year than last year, and even in the first quarter of the year crime was up:

    1. Hot weather leads to hotter tempers? Or that people go out more and so has more random encounters that eventually turn violent?

  2. Maggie… I enjoy your science posts. But, um… please consider the physics of this sort of activity! 

  3.  This always happens in Chicago on New Years Eve, hard to tell on the 4th when so many explosions are already going off.

    1. The similarities between the US and their enemies are hilarious: death penalty, torture, no decent healthcare, religious extremism influencing politics, police brutality etc. … and now firing guns when partying.
      The difference: You don’t get blown to bits by a drone strike when firing your gun during a wedding party.

      American Taliban indeed.

      1. “You don’t get blown to bits by a drone strike when firing your gun during a wedding party.”

        Coming soon to a ghetto near you!

        1. He was dark skinned and wearing a hoddie, he was obviously a homicide waiting to happen…

  4. And Ah’m proaud ta be an UH-MER-I-KIN!

    Where at least Ah know Ah’m FUH-REE!

  5.  Were there burn-bans in Birmingham this year? As a person from rural Southeast Missouri, I could see people considering guns an alternative to fireworks.

  6. my friend tells me that a gunshot fired in celebration of the 4th into the air in kansas city came down through their roof of their house and landed in her toddler daughter’s bedroom.

    1. This is what I worry about.  We have similar trigger happy celebrants far too close to my home. 

    2. I had a leak in my roof (which itself did a fair bit of damage) that turned out to have been caused by a .32 slug that (luckily) embedded itself in a rafter.
      Neighbors who grew up in rural Mexico liked to fire guns on the 4th of July and on New Years.  I was lucky to just have one bullet (that I know of) come down on the house.

  7. I seem to recall a wedding party massacre in Afghanistan five or six years ago, when people supposedly celebrated by firing into the air, and some passing US aircraft “returned” fire. Maybe they actually were firing at the planes and used the idea of celebratory gunfire as a cover story? I tried to dig around for info about it, but unfortunately there have been enough GWOT wedding party massacres that it would take time to read about them all.

    1. “Maybe they actually were firing at the planes and used the idea of celebratory gunfire as a cover story?”

      Guess what! They weren’t. Sell your conspiracy theories on Prisonplanet or something.

      1. I have always believed that it was members of an actual wedding party innocently shooting celebratory rounds in the air. I wouldn’t have used a word like “massacre”, or mentioned that there have been several wedding party massacres, if I thought it was a justified attack by the US.

        On the other hand, my memory is crap and I’m dredging this up from a memory of a two minute clip I saw on CNN several years ago. I don’t automatically trust everything I hear on CNN. I don’t automatically trust everything the US govt reports. And I’m not going to trust some stranger on the interweb who asserts “They weren’t” in a comment. I made it pretty clear from my first comment that I wasn’t sure what happened, and admitted I hadn’t researched it to my satisfaction.

        If you want to assert it so stridently and insultingly, then guess what? = [Citation needed].

  8. Bullets are made to penetrate flesh. Shoot to kill. Firing into the air is masturbation and makes baby Jesus all frownly.

  9. Over the years in New Orleans numerous New Years partiers have been injured or killed by falling bullets.  A very aggressive campaign of education and police work have sharply reduced this insane practice.

  10. While not exclusive to the South I have experienced other great ironic behaviors to a greater extent there and from people from there, they include:

    Negative comments about how Arabs (actually “Arab” seems to be Southern for any Muslim or any non-white person who has not confirmed NOT being a Muslim, or any non-white person whom a white person has insisted is a secret-Muslim, or any non-white person who wears regional/ethnic non-Western clothing styles such as Sikhs or Africans) treat women or “infidels” coming from people who treat women and non-Christians, and everyone else for that matter, like shit.

    Referring to anyone non-white as a “savage/animal/etc” when observing them shooting firearms into the air in celebration, burning flags or effigy in anger, whooping for either reason, etc. Then proceeding to do basically the same thing for pretty much the same reasons only often with more alcohol.

    Decrying, rightly IMHO, brutal foreign dictatorships such as that of Syria then supporting violence against protestors they don’t agree with (such as Occupy) and expressing a desire that such violence should be escalated. Similarly, but contrasted by, decrying rallies by groups like The Muslim Brotherhood while supporting the blocking of women’s health clinics and harassing of clients of said clinics. Equally amusing and more local is how they will mock the use of the 1st amendment when it is people like Occupy (“You’re not doing anything useful with your time”, “Get a job!”, etc) but if it’s a Tea-Party gathering/march then they’re doing God’s work, those patriots.

    Right wing and Southern people aren’t the only hypocrites in the world, I’m certainly capable of hypocrisy as well, but I’m awesome and they suck (I also have the decency to become, at least at some point, self-aware and ashamed about it most of the time).

  11. After Obama became President there was a run on guns and ammo. With all that surplus lying around, people are more likely to use them on a whim.

  12. I urge you to update your post to discuss the inherrent dangers of this practice.  It is illegal for a very good reason.  Here is a PubMed study on the incidence rate fo people being hit by such celebratory gunfire: 

    While you have every rigth to talk about this fondly, please know that it kills people.

  13. I remember one 4th of July  incident very well when I lived on Birmingham’s Southside several years ago. I was standing outside my apartment bar-b-queuing when my neighbor next door burst from his apartment, pointed his shotgun in the air  and blasted away, about a foot from my head! The sound was so loud and  sudden that my knees buckled and I hit the ground!  I love B’ham but I’m very glad I don’t live in the Metro area any more.

    1. Are you calling city limits “metro,” or the surrounding area?  You can’t really compare Mountain Brook and Ensley, or Irondale and Hoover/Vestavia Hills to one another.  At leas not the way I remember things.

  14. As a gun safety nut – firing your gun into the air is absolutely unsafe and people have been hurt and killed by bullets returning to earth. Guns are fun – just use them properly.

  15. The simplest conclusion is likely that, this tool to measure gunshots has caused people to want to shoot more, being measured is a means to quantify your existence and people like to do that. 

  16. I know the type of person who does this kind of thing doesn’t think about it, but couldn’t people use blanks? I handled a few different types of guns once (a demonstration at a police station when I was 15) but have never fired one and never knew “gun culture” having always lived in suburbs. Are blanks hard to get or expensive maybe? That’s not an easily googleable question.

    1. I haven’t seen them on the shelves at Wally World, for whatever it’s worth. They’re certainly more likely to cause minor malfunctions in semi-automatics, because of differences in pressure. Of course, that inconvenience in now way justifies firing bullets randomly in the air in celebration.

  17. I live in one of the most liberal enclaves of my city.  In 2010, EVERY lawn had an Obama sign.  There was ONE yard with a McCain sign.  This year, on July 3rd, 10pm, I heard a few gun reports.  At midnight, it was a fucking bullet festival.

    I was proud, personally.  I thought all my neighbors were pussies. [spoiler] I live in the South [/spoiler]

  18. How odd.  I was born in Birmingham, AL, lived the first 9 years of my life in Pinson, and have gone back to various areas of the state many times over the past couple of decades to visit family, and I’ve never, ever, ever seen or heard of a person there engaging in the celebratory firing of guns into the air.

    Maggie, are you absolutely positive you’re not in Texas?

  19.  Blanks actually are kinda hard to come by. The only places I know of to get them are internet ammo supply companies that the average “person who shoots in the air on the 4th” type doesn’t shop at. They cost as much or more than regular ammo.

    My celebratory gunfire is always directed safely into a nice dirt berm. I’m a saint, yes.

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