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Police: Leave the guns at home
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Ring in the new year tonight, but don’t celebrate by firing guns in the air, authorities warn.

Last New Year’s Day, 4-year-old Marquel Peters was killed by a stray bullet that came through the roof of the Church of God of Prophecy in DeKalb County, Ga. Officials believe the bullet had been fired into the air to celebrate the new year.

Celebratory gunfire is dangerous; it can cause property damage, physical injury or death, and it’s illegal here, says Lt. Bill Browne at the Great Bend Police Department. "It’s (called) unlawful discharge of a firearm in the city limits."

That crime is a Class B misdemeanor, City Attorney Robert Suelter said. It carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

A bullet discharged from a gun can travel up to four miles, Browne said. "Anything that goes up will come down," he added, and a bullet’s velocity as it falls can still be great enough to kill someone.

While Browne could not recall anyone being hurt by celebratory gunfire in recent years, he said that firing weapons on New Year’s Eve has been a problem some years, primarily in the southeast part of town.

Although it is a culturally accepted practice in many regions, especially on holiday’s such as New Year’s Eve, celebratory gunfire is a deadly tradition that results in several injuries each year. The level of danger increases in portion to the number of people in the area. The Centers for Disease Control has even issued a health warning on the practice: "Celebrating New Year’s Eve by firing guns into the air is a highly preventable cause of serious injury affecting groups such as women and children that typically experience fewer gunfire-related injuries."

CDC often cites a study done in Puerto Rico in 2004, following another case of fatal celebratory shooting. It notes that 80 percent of celebratory gunfire-related injuries are to the head, feet and shoulders. About 32 percent of the injuries are fatal, compared with a 2 to 6 percent death rate from other types of gunshot wounds. Nationwide, CDC studies show celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve kills an average of two people and injures 25 or more.