An annual shooting spree in North Carolina

In certain parts of the United States (including Birmingham, Alabama) shooting guns into the air is one way that some locals celebrate major holidays, like the 4th of July.

For those of us who didn't grow up with celebratory gunfire, this cultural practice can be difficult to understand—especially given the fact that it is dangerous. Bullets that go up come back down, and they can injure and kill people. It's unclear exactly how risky the practice is. If you're hit by a falling bullet, your chances of death are significantly higher compared to a normal gunshot wound. And a study of celebratory gunfire injuries in Los Angeles turned up 118 victims, including 38 deaths, between 1985 and 1992. But I wasn't able to find a good analysis that put deaths into perspective with shots fired. (So, for instance, for every x shots fired into the air, x number of people are injured. Without that, it's hard to tell whether celebratory gunfire is really, really dangerous or only kind of dangerous sometimes. But either way, when you do it, especially in urban areas, you're taking a risk of killing someone.)

Usually, though, when we talk about celebratory gunfire, we're talking about unorganized huzzahs fired off with impromptu vigor in backyards and at family gatherings. In Cherryville, North Carolina, however, the whole thing is a lot more official ... and safer. Starting at midnight on New Year's Eve, the Cherryville New Year's Shooters go door to door throughout a three-county area singing traditional New Year's shooting songs, and calling residents out to shoot with them. It's a lot like going caroling, but with weaponry. Thankfully, it's all done with blanks these days.

For more than 18 hours, and through three different counties — Gaston, Lincoln, and Cleveland — the shooters follow the route bringing ceremony and good tidings to neighbors. At each stop along the way, a crier recites the “Chant of the New Year’s Shooters,” and then participants fire their muskets, one by one, each loaded with black powder, no bullets allowed. The noise of the musket is thought to drown out evil spirits and bad luck; while the chant — part poem, part speech, and part song — asks for peace and prosperity in the New Year.

Joyce Green sent this story in to me. While she was raised in one of these communities—Shelby, North Carolina—she would like you to know that, "I never wake up on New Year’s day and think, 'I’d better get on down to the nursing home and fire off a couple of shots to bring in the New Year right.'"

Read more about the Cherryville New Year's Shooters

Read more about the dangers of celebratory gunfire that involves real bullets.

Image: Black Powder Shot, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from theknowlesgallery's photostream


  1. I winced in that Irene Adler episode of the Benedict Cumberbatch SHERLOCK when Sherlock walks outside Irene Adler’s house in London, and fires 3 times in the air to alert the police.   Bad idea, Sherlock!

  2. The danger is also relative to the type and caliber of weapon fired into the air.  
    For example:  A 12 Gauge shotgun firing bird shot straight up will do little or no damage when the shot comes down.  Fire a 1 oz slug from the same weapon and it can kill on impact.
    There is also the aspect of where the shots are fired and how many.  If you are out in the middle of hill country, even if you fire a lot of shots, there are not as many people in the area to be targets.

      1. Isn’t presuming that a stereotype against North Carolinians means someone’s perception of everything is a stereotype is itself a stereot… oh nevermind.

  3. “If you’re hit by a falling bullet, your chances of death are significantly higher compared to a normal gunshot wound.”

    This is the first time I’ve heard this. My gut reaction was to cry foul, since a bullet’s terminal velocity is much less than muzzle velocity. But it makes sense though, since if you DO get hit by a falling bullet, it’s most likely to be on the head or neck. 

    On the other hand, I’d rather “dodge” bullets from the air than from someone firing at me.  :-)

      1.  There could be a reporting bias in the hospital figures, since only those with a significant injury wold go to the hospital at all. Bullets fired straight up are often going no faster than if they had been dropped by a plane. It takes 150fps to break the skin and 200fps to break the skull. (Skin is incredible stuff.)  Someone hit by a falling .22 might not go to a hospital for a nuisance bruise like one of those would often give. has some interesting info, particularly the Mythbusters tests. It seems to largely depend on whether the bullets stay spin-stabilized or tumble, the latter falling more slowly.

  4. Near where I grew up, 40 years ago, one of the ranchers had an annual machine gun shoot on New Year’s Eve.  At the stroke of midnight, every machine gun he had and every one that any of his friends brought was fired up, reloaded, emptied, etc., until many thousands of rounds had been expended into a designated backstop.  Then they packed up the guns, unsealed the liquor (strict rule – no drinking before the shoot) and proceeded to get knee-walking drunk as quickly as possible.  Fun times!

    1.  As somebody who’s done a bit of beer drinking and shooting in the yard, I can say that it’s much more fun to shoot random crap and junk you have laying around in the yard than just shooting up at the sky.

  5. 1) For safety sake – don’t fire a gun into the air.

    2) They did this on Mythbusters once. If fired STRAIGHT up, the falling round isn’t going fast enough to hurt you. BUT if fired at an angle, depending on the parabola, the round, etc, it  can go fast enough to hurt/kill someone.

    3) This isn’t just a 4th of July thing. If you live in some shittier parts of town, you can hear people firing off their guns ‘just because’.

    1. On 2, i think there was some “accident/crime report/recreation” show that mentioned a guy being shot on his porch from such an arching bullet. Seems it had arched over 2-3 hoses, and came from a back yard where an inexperienced shooter was handed a large caliber handgun and told to shoot a empty beverage can.

  6. This is close to “vertical marksmanship,” a skill for which Saddam Hussein was quite notable.

    The rednecks are the last vanguards of old-timey visceral masculinity, but I’m afraid the Middle East has them beat.  In the Arab world, and in just about any place with a despotic government or old Soviet hand-me-down weapons – yes, I know, same group – they’ve mastered this art wonderfully.
    I’ll bet there’s a weird sociological phenomenon explaining the difference of degrees of ones’ non-target marksmanship and how this makes the gun-wielder feel more civilized or more alive.

    1. Never heard of “vertical marksmanship.” Very interesting.

      “Expressing one’s feelings and emotions via the firing of guns into the air is an ancient and noble artform,” said Henri St. Germain, president of the Federation Internationale des Discharges-Aeriales (FIDA), the sport’s governing body. “In fact, it may even predate the practice of expressing one’s feelings and emotions by shooting into other humans. And nowhere on Earth does this tradition continue to thrive more than in Iraq and Kentucky. It is a vital part of these two unique cultures.”
      – Iraq, Kentucky Vie For World Shooting-Into-The-Air Supremecy

  7. As an innocent Brit I really only imagined that celebratory gunfire was used at events like weddings in Afghanistan or Mafia controlled villages in Sicily. You live and learn, eh?

    1.  “As an innocent Brit” it is your sworn and sacred duty to presume that all ‘merkuns/yanks/whathaveyou are gun toting overweight loud obnoxious undereducated twits, (oh and we all have Texan accents).   so lets not see you slacking off in that regard again.. “England expects that every man will do his duty” etc.

  8. i think we should embrace this and admire it as a cultural aspect of people who are not like us

    so often in america we get on our high horses and bitch about globalization and how every neighborhood has a mc donalds, tgi fridays, and a walmart making every single american town look the same.   But then we look down our nose at people like this because they are doing something we wouldn’t do,, these people have a legitimate cultural regional thing going on, I think its beautiful.

    1. I agree.  I think all those who enjoy shooting guns for celebrations in the USA should get together with those from Arab countries who also enjoy the same pastime.  Kind of like the “beer summit.”

    2. Agreed. That’s why I’m not mocking it. I’m concerned and rather head-desky about the safety issues involved with random bullets being fired into the air in urban areas. But under safety-controlled circumstances, like the North Carolina shooters, I think it’s pretty cool and uniquely interesting. 

      1. …because most people firing guns into the air are overly concerned with safety controls, right? I know when I’m drunk and in the mood for some celebratin’ I’m always thinking of how to be as safe as possible.

        Sorry, but firing guns into the air is, in general, a dumb idea. If you know there’s nothing around for a couple of miles go nuts, but my suspicion is that the large majority of celebratory gunfire happens within the range of people or property that could get killed +/ damaged. Why should 37 people have to die over the course of 8 years for no reason other than satisfying someone’s urge to make a bunch of noise and seek attention?

  9. I don’t think anybody’s mocking (well, one commenter) this controlled traditional festival, so much as the practice of partying and shooting into the air which is not exclusive to this area, or The South, and in fact happens in pretty much every big urban area on New Years Eve too.

  10. Your misuse of the word ‘Yankees’ is highly amusing. At least to a Yankee. Probably not so much to the people of North Carolina, for whom it may be a mortal insult.

    1. As I had heard it defined:

      To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
      To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
      To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
      To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
      To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
      And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

        1.  i always wanted a list of “what i am”.  i’m a: yank (or ‘septic’), gweilo (or something that sounds like “bokwei”), honky,  cracker, imperialist running dog, male chauvinist pig, straight, “england” to some russians i know,  merkin, wasp, haole, gringo, ofay, round-eye, goy or goyim,  ….and a mighty good dancer.

        2. Where did “Yank” come from though? Stands to reason it was derived from Yankee. As I’ve struck the word (when used in Australia) ‘Yankee’ is chosen over the word ‘American’ when the speaker wants to highlight particular stereotypical characteristics associated with Americans, while ‘Yank’ is usually used more as a pejorative.

          It’s all very confusing, which is why I just refer to you all as Southern Canadians :)

  11. And a study of celebratory gunfire injuries in Los Angeles turned up 118 victims, including 38 deaths, between 1985 and 1992. But I wasn’t able to find a good analysis that put deaths into perspective with shots fired…

    OK, stop right there, please.  Why do we need an “analysis”?  What’s the “trade-off”?  This isn’t like weighing the side-effects of a beneficial medication. If there’s more than 1 casualty due to this practice, it should be stopped. The only “cost” is some yahoo doesn’t get to blast his pistol in the air with live ammo. A sensible society should be able to live with this. If you want to make bang-bangs, shoot blanks or light a firework. Any other opinion seems depraved to me. (Interesting that these gonzo practices all happen in “pro-life” red states, but that’s another thread.)

    1. So every purely recreational/’just for fun’ activity that has “more than 1 casualty … should be stopped”? The ban on recreational drug use should never be lifted provided there has been more than one overdose? ‘Pleasure fucking’ (i.e. not to have kids) should be stopped, provided more than person has died from an STD? Ditto for skydiving or hang-gliding…

      If the only people put at risk by an activity are those willingly participating in the activity, the only possible reason to want to regulate that activity are our own biases. There is nothing wrong with knowingly risking one’s own life purely for pleasure. Indeed, what is the point of living if you can never have fun?

      And this is coming from someone who has never fired a gun for any purpose, and does not see himself doing so in the future. But suum cuique. Live and let live. It’s not as if random, unwitting people are/need to be put at risk by this. It’s not done via flashmob on a school playground.

      1. Suum cuique? The essential function of a gun is to maim or kill.
        But otherwise, yes. One death does not seem much reason to prohibit most activities.

        1. Why try to evaluate “essential functions” in the abstract when we can simply empirically verify how something is actually being used in a specific situation? If a tool is not being used to hurt unwilling others, then how does its essential function matter?

          The essential function of a whip is to whip, and I imagine that I would enjoy getting whipped only slightly more than I would enjoy getting shot, but some people get off on it. Who am I to tell them no?

          1. Tools require responsible handling because it is often in their nature that mishandling may indeed result in injury to unwilling others and not only their operators.

  12. I am presuming that Maggie made a typo with the ” … for every x shots fired into the air, x number of people are injured …” sentence. I’m guessing that the second x should have been a ‘y’ otherwise we are looking at certain injury every time :-)

  13. man, this sounds like a blast.  gun bloggers do this frequently, but i’m glad to see positive press on events like this. :)

    other super fun gun-related thing: Boomershoot.  where every target makes a loud boom when you hit it. 

  14. Did anyone else immediately think of the scene in Reamde with the family reunion?

Comments are closed.