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

Photos by LaBellaVida/Flickr and Photo by jkyms72/Flickr

The following post was originally published in July 2011. 

Many Eastsiders have been asking this question as the 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.

Some of the people quoted above have retired or changed jobs since the post was published in July 2011.


  1. The Safety Dynamic Woman, can’t even tell you what kind of sounds you should be listening for, what makes you think the average Joe should for. Nobody knows until after the fact anyways. What is cheaper these days,M-80’s or 380’s ?

  2. Really Eastsider? Why not post something positive like where to see proper fireworks displays instead of trying to scare people from going outside to enjoy the holiday?

  3. As I type this, here in Silver Lake people are setting off VERY LOUD fireworks and my two dogs are freaked out. It has *never* been this bad on previous Independence Days. Doesn’t Los Angeles have any regulations about this stuff?

    Bah humbug.

  4. Fireworks in Echo Park will never stop.

    As for the difference is sounds, I’ve lived in Echo Park for 30 years and I still cant tell the difference between a firework and gunshots.

  5. The explosions in Virgil Village have been nonstop for over a month now. Every night. Beginning about 9pm. I read in the LA Times, much like calling illegal aliens “immigrants, they call these homemade bombs, “illegal fireworks”. LOL! Let’s call these what these really are— bombs! When will it end?

Post a Comment

Please keep your comments civil and on topic and refrain from personal attacks. The moderator reserves the right to edit or delete any comments. The Eastsider's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy apply to comments submitted by readers. Required fields are marked *