Pop, pop, pop: Were those fire crackers or gunshots?

Photo by LaBellaVida/Flickr

Photo by jkyms72/Flickr

Many Eastsiders will be asking that question this weekend as the upcoming Fourth of July holiday promises to deliver the annual barrage of fireworks with the occasional burst of  gunfire or at least what sounds like gunfire. Police instruct residents to call 911 when they hear gunshots. But that can get confusing  when your neighborhood is filled with the sounds of bombs bursting in air during July 4 celebrations (remember to keep pets indoors).  How do you know if that popping sound down the block  is an M-80 fire cracker, a 9 mm semi-automatic or a 12-gauge shotgun?  The Eastsider asked some folks who are familiar with the sounds of the season to help tell the difference.

Capt. Bill Murphy, LAPD Northeast Division:

Some fireworks are more rapid – think of firecrackers, very fast and random – as opposed to gun fire, which can be a consistent sound.  Firing a 9 MM will give off the same sound for each shot. Also, some fireworks can be very loud and a one-time explosion (think big rocket).  They also have a sound associated with the launch before the explosion (sizzling sound from the wick/fuse lighting).  Hopefully, this helps a little.

Sally Fernandez, spokeswoman with Safety Dynamics, a maker of gun shot recognition systems:

Let me just say in general that firecracker and small arms fire – like a 9 mm or a 22 – sound signatures are very, very similar.  That being said, it is very difficult to distinguish between the two with the normal ear.  Gunshot systems use a variety of technologies to reduce this confusion.  Police departments, if they get a gunshot alert, are able to see video of what caused the gunshot (i.e.; the person or vehicle that it came from) or hear the gunshot.  This helps them to reduce the confusion between the two events. Unfortunately, the average person is left with their ears only.

Senior Lead Officer Albert Polehonki, LAPD Northeast Division:

Sometimes its hard to tell the difference for us as well. My best explanation is that gunshots are usually heard in a distinct sequence, or a steady pattern, sometimes fast or slow depending on how fast the shooter pulls the trigger. Firecrackers usually don`t have any pattern especially when a whole package is lit.

Darin Williams, owner of Select Patrol*:

In most cases when I hear gunshots, it is most often a volley of multiple shots fired in rapid succession and not tremendously loud.

Lt. Wes Buhrmester, LAPD Rampart Division:

Most fireworks can be classified as sharp and low-volume, as with firecrackers, or booming, as in a small explosion (M80 and such).  Also, most fireworks make a flash, if one is watching the skies or horizon.  Gunshots are audibly more defined, and on July 4 or New Year’s Eve, often happen in succession, since those shots are often done in a “celebratory” manner.  Of course, if one has any doubt, call the police and we will check it out.

* Select Patrol is an Eastsider advertiser


  1. What a great and informative post — this is one of those unanswered questions I’ve had for years!

  2. Informative, yet I’m still confused! Highland Park has been ablaze with pops and booms lately. My poor dogs won’t come out of hiding.

  3. I just had heard gun shot it sound really close to me what do I do

  4. I am a Vietnam Vet and I do not like the sound of gunfire or M80’s , etc. It bothers my sleep. The LAPD apparently have chosen not to go where there is apparently gunfire. They get paid plenty, but they choose to play it safe. Last night, is was like in the war, until 2am.

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