Celebratory gunfire is the shooting of a firearm into the air in celebration. It sometimes occurs in parts of the Balkans,[1] Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, Latin America, the United States, and Ethiopia, even where illegal.[2][3][4][5]

Common occasions for celebratory gunfire include New Year's Day as well as religious holidays.[6] The practice sometimes results in random death and injury from stray bullets. Property damage is another result of celebratory gunfire; shattered windows and damaged roofs are sometimes found after such celebrations.[7]


Depending on the angle it is fired, the speed of a falling bullet changes. A bullet fired nearly vertically will lose the most speed,[8] usually falling at terminal velocity, which is much lower than its muzzle velocity. Despite this, people can still be injured or killed by bullets falling at this speed. If a bullet is fired at other angles, it maintains its angular ballistic trajectory and is far less likely to engage in tumbling motion; it therefore travels at speeds much higher than a bullet in free fall. Dense, small bullets achieve higher terminal velocities than lighter, larger bullets.

Between 1918 and 1920,[9] United States Army Ordnance Corps' Julian Hatcher conducted experiments to determine the velocity of falling bullets,[10][11][12][13] and calculated that .30 caliber rounds reach terminal velocities of 90 m/s (300 feet per second or 186 miles per hour).[13][14] According to computer models, 9mm handgun rounds reach terminal velocities of between 45 and 75 m/s (150 and 250 feet per second or 100 and 170 miles per hour).[15] A bullet traveling at only 61 m/s (200 feet per second or 135 miles per hour) to 100 m/s (330 feet per second or 225 miles per hour) can penetrate human skin.[16]

Any gunfire can damage hearing of those nearby without ear protection, and blank rounds fired in an unsafe direction can cause injuries or death from muzzle blast at close range, as in the case of actor Jon-Erik Hexum. Birdshot fired from a shotgun disperses and loses energy much faster than slugs, buckshot, or bullets fired from rifles and pistols. Although potentially lethal for many yards at a low angle, fired at a high angle, the main risk of injury from falling "shot rain" is shot landing in the eyes and causing scratches, particularly to persons looking upwards without eye protection.

A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 80% of celebratory gunfire-related injuries in Puerto Rico, on New Year's Eve 2003 were to the head, feet, and shoulders.[17] In Puerto Rico, about seven people have died from celebratory gunfire on New Year's Eve in the last 20 years.[citation needed][timeframe?] The last one was in 2012.[18] Between the years 1985 and 1992, doctors at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, treated some 118 people for random falling-bullet injuries. Thirty-eight of them died.[19]

In 2005, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) ran education campaigns on the dangers of celebratory gunfire in Serbia and Montenegro.[20] In Serbia, the campaign slogan was "every bullet that is fired up, must come down."[21]


Notable incidents


Middle East

South America

South Asia

Southeast Asia

United States


Cultural references

The non-fiction U.S. cable television program MythBusters on the Discovery Channel covered this topic in Episode 50: "Bullets Fired Up" (original airdate: April 19, 2006). Special-effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman conducted a series of experiments to answer the question: "Can celebratory gunfire kill when the bullets fall back to earth?"

Using pig carcasses, they worked out the terminal velocity of a falling bullet and had a mixed result, answering the question with all three of the show's possible outcomes: Confirmed, Plausible and Busted.[71] They tested falling bullets by firing them from both a handgun and a rifle, by firing them from an air gun designed to propel them at terminal velocity, and by dropping them in the desert from an instrumented balloon.

They found that while bullets traveling on a perfectly vertical trajectory tumble on the way down, creating turbulence that reduces terminal velocity below that which would kill, it was very difficult to fire a bullet in this near-ideal vertical trajectory. In practice, bullets were likely to remain spin-stabilized on a ballistic trajectory and fall at a potentially lethal terminal velocity. They also verified cases of actual deaths from falling bullets.[72]

See also


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Further reading