All Fired Up for the New Year

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Here in Shingletown 2020 started with a bang. We know from experience that New Year’s Eve celebrations can get out of hand, so I was home and in bed at midnight, waiting for the gunfire to start at the stroke of 12. It’s as reliable as the ball in Times Square.

However much they insist that their weapons are tools designed for self-defense or hunting, some folks feel the need to fire into the air when midnight rolls around at the end of the year. Why? Beats me. I have never heard of construction workers running outside to fire their nail guns at the sky. Even though I own a powerful glue gun I wasn’t tempted to go out and squirt hot glue at the moon. But for some people this seems to be an acceptable time to cut loose with a lethal weapon.

Maybe people learned this behavior from movies and TV, all those Westerns in which Hollywood cowboys celebrate with their “six-shooters,” putting a few bullets through the ceiling of the saloon or running outside to fire randomly into the air. It’s called celebratory gunfire, aerial firing, or happy fire. According to Wikipedia it is culturally accepted in parts of the Balkans, parts of Russia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the United States.

But this year was different from auld lang syne. Every year we hear gunfire, but when 2020 got started there was more. Lots more. Lying in bed wondering where all those bullets would fall to earth (hopefully not on me) I heard a different sound than in years gone by. The intense and rapid firing that overpowered the wimpy pop-pop of pistols came from semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, the most popular rifle in America according to the NRA.

First from one direction, then another, then another, people stepped outside their homes and fired off rounds (forgive me here, I am assuming they stepped outside first). Perhaps this is an advanced form of non-verbal communication. “Hey I got a shotgun over here!” “Me too!” “Hi neighbors, listen up to this AR-15 with a bump stock installed.” “Nice! What do you think of my Uzi?”

I was waiting for it to stop. It usually does after ten or fifteen minutes, but this year it went on and on. At 12:30 Shingletown was still rocking to the soundtrack of Blackhawk Down and I can’t have been the only person feeling on edge. People had been drinking. A lot. Now they were firing lethal weapons. A lot. Not a safe combination.

The best was yet to come. Around 12:40 when the gunfire started to die away there was a blast so loud my bedroom window rattled and shook. I was rattled, too. I rolled out of bed, alarmed, with the words shock and awe reverberating in my head. What was that? It sounded more like a detonation than a shot. Had a stray bullet hit a propane tank? I edged cautiously to the window and peeked out but saw no flames or orange glow. Perhaps the volume of this blast put the New Years Eve shootists to shame. The gunfire petered out. A couple more volleys as 1 a.m. rolled around and it was over. Happy New Year!

In the morning I asked around: did you hear anything really loud last night about twelve forty? Yes, people heard it and yes their windows shook. Some thought it was a big firework but to me it sounded more like mortar or small artillery fire. Nobody knew where it came from.

If it was a bad year for gunfire Shingletowners weren’t complaining. I guess we are used to it by now. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office told me they only had one call complaining about the noise, this from a resident reporting the sound of gunfire and dynamite, but they also said that for several years they have had complaints of a cannon being discharged on New Year’s Eve somewhere in town. No further information was available.

Across the nation many people were struck by stray bullets and at least one bystander died. A woman in Beaumont Texas reported that her neighborhood sounded “like a war zone,” the exact same phrase used by a lady in Montgomery, Alabama, and also by me in Shingletown, California. A Google search confirmed that this year’s midnight gunfire was reported to be heavier than in previous years in most locations. It was an ominous start to the year.

It is legal to discharge a weapon in a safe manner in the unincorporated areas of Shasta County, for example at a firing range or into a berm, but shooting into the air is discharging a weapon in a negligent manner. Under California Penal Code 246.3 PC, you commit the crime of “negligent discharge of a firearm” if you willfully discharge a firearm, in a grossly negligent manner, which could result in someone’s injury or death.

Negligently firing a gun may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a California felony. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, PC 246.3 negligent discharge carries a maximum county jail sentence of one year. Charged as a felony, it can lead to sixteen months, two years or three years in county jail.

Graham Posner
Graham Posner was born in London, England, and arrived in San Francisco 40 years ago clutching a degree in Eng Lit. Everything after that is vague and blurry, but includes stints as a teacher in Osaka, Japan, and as a computer technician for PG&E in the Bay Area. Romance brought him to Shingletown, Shasta County, where he married, built a home, published an independent newspaper, and eventually opened an online business selling posters and art prints.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    In 1999 14 year old Shannon Smith of Arizona was killed by stray bullet on New Years Eve, this lead to Arizona enacting Shannon’s Law with stiff penalties for random shooting. Still a 3 year old boy was injured this year but thankfully survived. And it is not just NRA wingnuts doing the random shooting, Cinco de Mayo also gets random shooting as well as 4th of July.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Here in Palo Cedro, the bulk of the gunfire was over in about 10 minutes, with only a handful of reports after that. It started well before midnight, though—probably coinciding with the 6th or 8th beer.

      There are country people out here—generally preferring peace and quiet and the blanket of stars on moonless nights—and there are people pretending to be country people. The former respect guns as tools. The latter think think guns are toys, and country living means you get to do whatever the f*** you want, because that’s what country living is all about.

      The latter also tend to install high-luminosity flood lights that light up their properties like prison yards all night long, and neighboring properties as well.

      The pretenders mostly dress the part, and drive the right rigs, but they don’t get it. They’re posers, and it’s obvious.

  2. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Ku Klux Klan/Dixie Boys/Alt Right…take your pick, alive and well, again, in Shingletown, this was a reality in the 1960s. A little research would uncover the location of that big boom.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      When I first moved to Shasta County, the local militias were all the rage. I think most of the members have either moved on to other forms of cosplay, or senile dementia.

      There are some stubborn hangers-on, though (see linked website). It’s really hard to tell if the guy with the Walmart-purchased pitchfork and pool tiki torch props is kidding or not. The guy who posted it on FARC.com says he looks like he’s in a Bass Pro Shop catalogue (referring to the Filson fedora, mirrored shades, and camo—all brand new). The responding comments are funny, too.

      http://jeffersonstatemilitia.com/

  3. Avatar James Montgomery says:

    This sounds like a bunch of city slickers who moved to the country complaining about how the country people act, to me. I’ve been hearing this stuff most of my life, one way or another.
    Of course it is not safe to fire guns in the air, nor advisable, and every few years someone gets hurt or killed. Bad idea. Still, its probably safer than burning trash outdoors or walking down a city street.
    I commend Mr. Posner for noticing that the locals were not concerned about it.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      The violent crime rate in Shasta County is 7.1 per 1,000 people—third highest in the state. In Redding it’s 6.67 per 1,000 (pretty much the same).

      Nearest big city—Sacramento—is 3.86 per 1,000. Sacramento suburbs cities of Folsom and Roseville: 1.08 and 1.50 respectively. Davis, my last long-term city of residence and roughly Redding’s size, is 1.27 per 1,000.

      California’s violent crime rate is 4.47 per 1,000 (well below Shasta County’s rate) and almost 95% of Californians live in cities. True, there are portions of some California cities to be avoided, but overall, the vast majority are safer than rural Shasta County.

      I’ve had guns pointed at me twice in my life—both times in the sticks. I’m always amused when I visit the Bay Area with lifelong Shasta County residents, and they act like our lives are in grave danger the who time.

  4. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Wow, how Shasta County must have changed since I left. I was tied up by robbers at a tire store I worked at in Oakland. There were gun fights and riots in Bay Area towns. I couldn’t wait to get back to Shasta County where it was safe. I do remember how the Asphalt Cowboys at Rodeo time would run around shooting off their blank guns but then had to quit because the newcomers from down south thought it was gang shooting. And when I traveled to school sporting events in the Bay Area I was amazed at how all the schools were fenced and looked like prisons as opposed to Shasta County’s open campuses. When we ordered maintenance supplies at SUHSD we did not have to order bullet proof glass like urban schools. We hired a maintenance worker from LA and he told us how down there he would have a security guard accompany him whenever he went to repair things. I think the city slickers who moved to Rural California were into too much hoopla about gun crazed militia groups, mostly all bark and no bite, as compared to the never ending crime in urban areas. I personally felt safe in San Francisco but feared the streets of Oakland and other cities. Violent crime in Shasta County has always been front page news because it rarely happened but in the urban areas it is buried in the back pages because it happens all the time.
    Stats are useless when in real life I was robbed and my home burgalized in the few years I lived in cities but never in the many years I have lived in Rural areas. If someone had a gun pulled on them in a rural area they were probably where they shouldn’t be anyway.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Bruce — Funny you should say that stats are useless in real life. When I was composing my post with those violent crime stats, I debated back and forth about including the two times I’ve had guns pointed at me, because anecdotal stories are useless when it comes to assessing relative risk. Insurance actuaries don’t use scary stories or gut feelings to calculate risk—they use stats.

      There’s no doubt that there are portions of Oakland and San Francisco that are more dangerous than downtown Redding. There are also neighborhoods in Oakland (Rockridge, Maxwell Park, Longfellow) and San Francisco (Diamond Heights, Sea Cliff, The Precidio) that are safer than downtown Redding.

      Incidentally, I’ve lived in Shasta County for more than 25 years, and my formative youth was spent in rural NW Colorado in a town of ~7,000 people. Redding is the most populous city in which I’ve resided. I didn’t like it—I lasted about 5 years (1/30th of my life)—and we moved back to Palo Cedro. I’ve never lived in a city as large as San Francisco, Salt Lake City, or Phoenix.

      I’m not a newbie here in Shastanistan, and I’m not a city slicker.

      When I attended UC Davis, it took me a couple of years to get over the feeling that everyone thought I was a rube who smelled like I’d just stepped in a fresh cow pie. I never 100% got over that—even now, I often think that I’m coming off as the hayseed that I am.

      Oh, and I had those guns pointed at me (1) by a pair of poachers on a remote National Wildlife Refuge in central Montana where I was taking blood samples from prairie dogs, and (2) by an irate landowner in Tuolumne County who thought I was trespassing when I was in the county’s right of way (I was conducting surveys for a bridge replacement project). In both cases I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

  5. Avatar Candace says:

    People pulling guns on people in Shasta County is hardly an anomaly. I’d venture that most of those doing the gun pointing are typically somewhere they have no business being; doing what they’re doing instead of the other way around. The high crime stats here are not made up; all one has to do is pay attention to our local news to see this fact playing out. I’ve lived here for 62 years; violent crime has steadily increased over the years as our population has grown. I’m no city slicker nor am I a country hick ( eye of the beholder, I suppose, lol), I’m just an informed citizen.

  6. Avatar Bob says:

    The bullet loses most of it’s energy as it falls from the sky. Terminal velocity comes into play.

  7. Avatar Candace says:

    Also… randomly shooting celebratory bullets into the sky? I don’t care how one defines oneself, how idiotic and irresponsible. I have family members who are responsible gun owners/hunters and no way would they condone doing something that stupid.

    • Avatar Joe says:

      Black powder with no bullet works best for the big boom!

      You should hear how loud a dry ice and a 2L sound. The shock wave can crack a window.

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      My brother in law when patrolling on NY Eve as a policeman used to park his cruiser under an overpass at midnight to protect himself from stray bullets. Incredibly irresponsible to fire guns in the air

  8. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you for this article Graham. I can’t imagine living through that barrage without being really alarmed. When I lived in South Pomona, everyone had guns. Two of my neighbors were murdered. I thought I left all of that behind when I moved north. Two years ago I was hiking down 299 to get to my car that was parked at the trail head of a trail I had just finished and was almost shot by a young man discharging his handgun out the passenger window of a car driving up to Shasta. I turned and fell to the ground instictively and didn’t get hit. Did anyone have unexpected roof leaks after the 1st? By the way, there is a man in Shingletown who owns an Uzi, but really, it’s so old school. Thank you again.

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