Thousands of North Carolinians will ring in 2019 at First Night Raleigh, a carefully planned celebration promising live music and entertainment, the legendary acorn drop, and a safe, fun night. At smaller gatherings just a few miles away—maybe in a neighborhood near you—equally joyful and probably inebriated individuals will celebrate the dawn of the new year by firing guns into the air.

“At 12 am NYE, the city is going to sound like a war zone… fireworks and gunshots!” warned one poster on the Nextdoor site for Durham’s Colonial Village neighborhood. There would be so many gunshots, she continued, that calling 911 was pointless. “If you have not personally witnessed any immediate danger, crime, or injury and you just HEAR gunshots… I can tell you now that you will get little response by calling 9-1-1. If you have any concerns from the SOUNDS of gunshots, DPD is going to treat it as a non emergency.”

The Durham Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on whether this is an accurate assessment. Firing a gun within city limits is considered a misdemeanor and could carry a twenty-day jail sentence and a $200 fine.

In Wake County, law enforcement officials want you to report gunfire anytime you hear it, including on New Year’s Eve.

“Shooting a gun in the air within Raleigh city limits is not only dangerous, as it could result in injuries to individuals and damage to property, but it is also illegal,” Raleigh Police spokeswoman Donna-maria Harris wrote in an email. “The Raleigh Police Department wants individuals to report the sound of gunshots heard at any time, including on holidays.”

Shooting your gun into the air is undeniably fun and more participatory than merely watching fireworks. North Carolinians have been doing it on New Year’s Eve since at least the eighteenth century, when German settlers walked from house to house to greet their neighbors with chants and the firing of muskets. But as Isaac Newton discovered a hundred years before that, what goes up must come down, and, well, things can get messy. The odds of a stray bullet hitting a person are pretty low, but when it happens—and it does happen—they’re more likely to be fatal than everyday gunshots because they’re more likely to strike the victim’s head.

Amazingly, descendants of those German settlers are still using muskets to ring in the New Year today—and their celebration is probably a lot safer than any involving a handgun. Groups like the Cherryville New Year’s Shooters say they’ve carried on the tradition for 150 years, and this year’s outing is expected to draw 450 shooters throughout the evening’s march through Gaston County.

Organizer Rusty Wise says the event has remained popular because of its simplicity—but the fact that participants use blanks instead of real bullets helps.

“There will be some bruised fingers, cuts, and scrapes, but we’ve really never had any major issues,” Wise says. “We really preach safety.”

Wise was surprised to hear that people shoot live ammunition into the air on New Year’s Eve.

“That’s crazy dangerous,” he says.

One reply on “Public Service Announcement: Please Don’t Shoot Your Guns in the Air Tonight”

  1. “…The odds of a stray bullet hitting a person are pretty low…”

    Congrats, someone wins!

    “A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student was struck by a bullet early Tuesday during the WRAL First Night Raleigh celebration downtown.

    Allyson Cole said she and her roommate, 22-year-old Kaitlyn Kong, watched the Acorn Drop at midnight and were listening to music when Kong suddenly dropped her phone and grabbed both her chest and her friend.”

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