Photo: Louafi Larb/Reuters
While I share in the general feeling of satisfaction and relief in the toppling of Gadaffi, it's perhaps too early to celebrate. It felt very exciting to watch Saddam's statue being toppled, but that turned out to be a cheap thrill, or a very expensive one. The pictures from Tripoli aren't filling me with confidence for Libya's immediate future. The rebels do not exactly strike me as a disciplined fighting force; more like a rag-tag collection of young men on a massive adrenaline and testosterone high. Kind of like our own rioters, but armed with AK-47s and hand grenades.
Every high contains its own down, and I hope this one isn't too destructive. Which brings me to something I've long wondered about. When these guys fire their guns into the air in celebration, as they frequently do, what happens to the bullets? They have to land somewhere, right? Or on someone. According to this BBC report, this is a much-documented problem:
Examples of fatalities due to celebratory gunfire abound. Three people in the Philippines died due to stray bullets fired to welcome the arrival of the new year 2011. In 2010 a Turkish bridegroom killed three relatives when he fired an AK-47 at his own wedding. In the same year, Jordan's King Abdullah II ordered his country's authorities to clamp down on the practice after two people were killed and 13 more injured in one incident. When the Iraqi football team defeated Vietnam in 2007's Asia Cup, three people were killed in Baghdad amid widespread gunshots as fans celebrated. Celebratory gunfire in Kuwait after the end of the Gulf War in 1991 was blamed for 20 deaths.
The practice is not restricted to Asia and the Middle East. A US study found that 118 people were treated for random "falling-bullet injuries" at one Los Angeles medical centre between 1985 and 1992, resulting in the deaths of 38. Additionally, the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia also ran a poster campaign with the slogan "Bullets Are Not Greeting Cards - Celebrate Without Weapons". In 2005, Serbian authorities warned their citizens that "every bullet that is fired up must come down" ahead of New Year's Eve.
Studies suggest that, although the velocity of a falling bullet is lower than that of one which has just been fired, it is still sufficient to be fatal.