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.