Police often warn their residents to refrain from shooting guns into the air to celebrate the new year, but it happens anyway.
A recent story in USA Today listed several cities and counties around the U.S. where celebratory gunfire is illegal. For example, in Montgomery, Alabama, police promoted $500 rewards for people who offered tips on those who fired guns at midnight.
That’s because, at the very least, gunshots can be scary for neighbors who wake up with bullet holes in their homes; at the worst, they can lead to injuries and death. In early 2020, according to the USA Today story, a 28-year-old mother of two from Richmond, Virginia, was killed when a celebratory gunshot hit her.
Brenda Lightening-Tolbert, a grandmother from Bowie, Maryland, told WTOP she was one of the lucky ones.
“I was doing some cleaning and went into our bedroom that faces the back of the house. And I saw these chips, like plaster on the floor, and thought, ‘where is this coming from?'”
Lightening-Tolbert then saw something metallic on the floor. She picked it up, and was surprised by its heft. She looked up, and saw a hole in her ceiling.
“I looked at it, and asked my husband, and said ‘is this a bullet?’ and he said ‘I think it is a bullet,'” Lightening-Tolbert said.
She called the police and, the officer confirmed the metal fragment was indeed a bullet.
That prompted her post on social media, where she warned her neighbors about the dangers of celebratory gunfire. If it had not been for the coronavirus pandemic, Lightening-Tolbert said she might have had her grandchildren staying with her, and that’s where they sleep.
“It was scary,” she said, expressing her exasperation with people who don’t think of the consequences of firing a gun at midnight.
“This person who shot, he or she went back into their home and went to sleep and thought nothing of it. And someone could have been killed from their bullet,” Lightening-Tolbert said.
In Prince George’s County, it’s illegal to fire a gun near another home unless the shooter is defending himself or his family.
Lightening-Tolbert said the incident brought back memories of when she was a girl in Chicago. Her father would have the family sleep on the floor on New Year’s Eve just in case a bullet entered their home.
She said even those who shoot the gun without thinking anything bad could happen could be victims, themselves.
“That bullet could come down and that could kill you,” Lightening-Tolbert said.
She offered advice for people who want to do something loud to send off the old year, next year.
“Holler, scream, don’t shoot your gun,” she said. “Do anything but shoot your gun.”
WTOP’s Acacia James contributed to this report.