Brian Perez was playing in the front yard of his south central Los Angeles home in 1999 while his parents roasted hot dogs and corn during a Fourth of July barbecue when a bullet dropped from the sky and pieced his head, fatally injuring the 9-year-old boy.
It sounds like a freak accident, but Brian is not alone. Every year dozens of people die or are injured throughout the country from stray bullets fired into the air during Independence Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Last year a boy was injured in Los Angeles when a bullet grazed his skull on New Year’s Eve.
In Kansas City, Mo., a man was killed last year by a falling bullet from someone else’s weapon, moments after he fired his own gun into the air. And in New Orleans, after the sound of gunshots echoed around the city , five people were wounded.
This year, like many other departments throughout the country, Los Angeles and Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit are mounting public awareness campaigns to educate people on the dangers of shooting into the air.
“People that are shooting, they don’t think they are out to kill anyone but they do,” said Sgt. John Pasquariello, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.
The Long Path of a Stray Bullet
A bullet fired into the air can climb two miles and remain in flight for more than a minute, police said.
As it falls, the bullet reaches a velocity of 300 to 700 feet-per-second. A velocity of only 200 feet per second is sufficient to penetrate the human skull.
A special team of about 300 specially trained officers will patrol traditionally busy areas in Los Angeles looking or responding to people who fire off their guns.
In Los Angeles, officers say the campaign that began back in 1989 is finally starting to make a difference.
Last New Year’s Eve the Los Angeles police department received 580 calls complaining about indiscriminate firing — that’s 65 fewer than in 1999 when the number reached 645 and more than 200 better than than the 788 recorded in 1992.
Police Take Cover From Falling Bullets
In Miami, police are so concerned over celebratory bullets falling from the sky, all officers take cover for 10 minutes before and after the New Year.
Miami public information officers are taking to the airwaves and going out to neighborhoods to let people know the consequences of shooting into the air.
“A bullet going 125 miles per hour takes just second to fire and in that time you have wiped out a lifetime of smiles and hugs and everything a person is,” said Det. Delrish Moss, with the Miami Police Department.
While Miami police officers take cover before and after midnight, they will answer only emergency calls. Last year, Miami police received fewer calls about gun-firing incidents, but Moss said they will taking a close look at what happens this year.
“This will be a determining year and we will know whether last year was a fluke,” Moss said.
Some cities are also cracking down by stiffening the punishment. In Arizona last year, firing a gun into the air was raised from a misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by up to a year behind bars.
The law came in response to the death of a 14-year-old Shannon Smith who died from a stray bullet in June 1999. Shannon’s Law has become the centerpiece of a holiday public-safety campaign warning people not to fire guns into the air.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.