What If You Fired A Gun In The Air?

It should go without saying, but please don’t fire your guns up in the air.

Universal Pictures

Many people across the world love their guns. Whether for hunting, pest control, or war, guns are a useful tool. Besides the functionality of a firearm, they can be used for pleasure in some cases such as target practice. However, guns and the accessibility of a deadly weapon remains a controversial topic. The ease of access to a gun is frequently discussed on the news and in politics. However, many Americans have argued it is their right to bear arms if they wish to do so, and the ownership of guns remains widespread across the nation.

In the right hands, guns can provide food and protection. Good practice revolves around maintenance and assured ethics behind the use of the weapon. In the wrong hands, however, guns can cause utter devastation for individuals and their family and friends. Such instances of poor gun use have become a frequent aspect of news coverage.

But besides mass killings involving firearms, there is another, more inadvertent, cause of harm: carelessness.


During public holidays, many people have attempted creating their own firework displays with their trusty guns. Replicating cartoon cowboy, Yosemite Sam on a good day, people have shot in the air all in the name of fun.

But, what goes up must come down. So what actually happens to the falling bullets?


A typical 9mm bullet will travel at approximately 700 meters per second. If you were to fire a gun with your arm exactly parallel to the floor, gravity will force the bullet to drop to the ground in less than a second.

When firing directly up in the air, however, the velocity of a bullet in an upwards trajectory would be stronger than gravity, and take almost half a minute for the bullet to complete its journey before hitting the ground. Fired upwards, a typical 9mm bullet climb to about 4,000 feet. For a frame of reference, a 9mm bullet would travel about one and a half times the height of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.


From 4,000, a falling round could reach a terminal velocity of 150 feet per second. Falling at a rate almost covering half the length of a typical football pitch per second, a falling bullet could cause some serious damage upon impact. Firearms expert, Julian Hatcher, concluded in the 1920s that for a bullet to pierce human skin, a bullet will need to travel at a minimum of 200 feet per second. This indicates that, if fired directly up, a bullet wouldn’t come down at lethal terminal velocity, but would still be able to cause damage.

Despite these calculations, many people have suffered fatal consequences as a result of falling bullets. All across the United States, there have been numerous reports of people dying from celebratory gunfire, including the case of fourteen-year-old Shannon Smith, who died from a falling bullet in June 1999.

Shannon spent the summer evening talking to her friends on the phone and online. While on the phone at around 9:30 pm, she heard what sounded like a car accident and went into her backyard to investigate. While in the backyard, a single falling bullet struck Shannon on the head. Shannon’s body was discovered almost an hour later, and she was pronounced dead at a local hospital. It was reported that the bullet had come from over a mile away after several witnesses reported hearing gunfire. However, a suspect was never found.

Enraged by the reckless behaviour which caused their daughter’s death, Shannon’s parents petitioned to change the charge of celebratory gunfire from a misdemeanour to a felony. The Smith family took the campaign across Arizona, and in July 2000, Shannon’s Law was enacted.

The results of a falling bullet travelling back to the ground at around 150 per second hypothesised that it would not be a lethal force. The speculation that the gun which caused Shannon’s death had been fired from a mile away indicates that the terminal velocity of the falling bullet was greater than initially calculated.

Having not been fired directly vertical, but more from an angle, the ballistic trajectory of the bullet meant that the round wouldn’t have climbed as high, but would have travelled further in distance.

When fired directly up into the air, the bullet would have slowed to stop before succumbing the force of gravity pulling it back down. However, when fired at an angle, the bullet would have travelled in an arc, travelling at a more sustained trajectory.

Celebratory gunfire has taken many lives across the world and has been made a felony in the majority of states in the USA. However, many gun owners continue to carry out this temerarious tradition this day, and News outlets across the country continue to give Public Service Announcements before New Year’s Eve and Independence Day celebrations.

America isn’t the only country where this remains an issue: in 2008, a Montenegro Airlines aeroplane was discovered to have been shot in the tail as a possible result of gunfire during Orthodox Christmas celebrations. No one on board was harmed. Governments across the world are taking a harder approach to those caught firing their weapons in the air with reckless abandon. Recently officials in the Philippines have threatened acts of celebratory gunfire with lengthy prison sentences, and accidental deaths have decreased.

It’s worth repeating: don’t fire your guns up in the air.

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I am a freelance writer with an interest in wrestling, culture, music, podcasts and literature. Currently working in projects involving creative regeneration.