Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Police: You can be arrested for celebratory gunfire


JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — On New Year’s Eve, police are on the lookout for a serious problem: celebratory gunfire.

It is because like the old saying goes: "what goes up must come down." Police here in Jax Beach and across our area are encouraging people to keep the guns down.

New Year's Eve two years ago was rough for pilot Graham Hill. He and his girlfriend went up to get a bird's eye view of fireworks when he was struck in the head by a bullet.

"I let her know that we had been shot at -- and just as soon as I said that, blood starting running down my neck,” Hill said in a YouTube video.

Hill was one of the fortunate survivors -- and a prime example of why celebratory gunfire is a bad idea.

"People don't think. They just go outside and fire a gun into the air. Where's that bullet? The bullet has to come down somewhere," said Jacksonville Beach Police Department Cmdr. Mark Evans.

Indeed it does. That's why so many people get hurt this time of year. The group Shot Spotters tracked 11,508 celebratory gunfire incidents nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2013. About 1,100 of those occurred in the last six hours of the year.

Illegal fireworks are also something to watch for.

"It's all fun and games until somebody gets an eye poked out or has to end up in the hospital because they have burns on their hands," said tourist Tina Goldstrom.

Hill wasn't the only one struck Jan. 1, 2013. An 8 year-old boy was hit in the leg by a bullet. They're incidents everyone hopes to prevent this New Year’s Eve.

"It's serious stuff. You see it all the time. On Fourth of July and obviously New Year's. People get hurt," Goldstrom said.

Celebratory gunfire is not only dangerous, it's illegal. Anyone caught doing it will be arrested, with no exceptions.

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January  2013:   JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WTLV) - Pilot Graham Hill was just looking for a good view of the downtown fireworks when he took his girlfriend for a New Year's Eve flight over downtown Jacksonville. Instead, he was met by gunfire. 

 "We were just north of the football stadium, at 1,200 feet when there was a loud pop. ...And that's when I noticed the bullet hole. And so I let her know that we had been shot at, and just when I said that I felt blood running down my neck."

In a YouTube video, Hill says he handed the controls to his girlfriend when he realized he'd been shot in the head, and used his jacket to staunch the bleeding. They landed safely at Craig Field. And he appears to have taken the incident with a dose of good humor, even posting this X-ray as his Facebook profile photo.

Jacksonville pilot and flight instructor Chris Hughes, who has actually flown the plane that was hit, heard about the incident in an online pilots' forum.

"Shocked. It's not something you would expect to really run into flying over a city like Jacksonville."

Unfortunately, the problem of celebratory gunfire is not that rare in Jacksonville. An 8-year-old boy was shot in the foot, also on New Year's Eve. And as we reported at that time, Jacksonville police say they answered 259 calls for discharged firearms on that day alone.

"They know it is wrong, it is illegal, just like any other law that is broken, they are out there doing it, they know it is not right, they just think they are not going to get caught," JSO spokesperson Melissa Bujeda told First Coast News.

Chris Hughes still views the shooting as a freak occurrence. But he will tell his flight students that it's just one more thing for a pilot to be prepared for.

"At this point, yeah, I would probably warn them, if they're flying on New Year's Eve or any other major holiday when Americans like to shoot guns, then be careful. That's probably what I'd warn them."

This incident has of course gotten a lot of attention in aviation circles. But the folks we spoke to at the FAA say the chances of it happening again are almost infinitesimally small.

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