By Uduak Umo
There was an idiom; “The safety of your home” to suggest that the home was meant to be safe. Not anymore. Build beside an expressway and a fuel truck might skid off nearby; build in the middle of nowhere and stray bullets might rain in through your roof. And there are several of these incidences. So, who’s shooting these bullets? What’s going on and how do we secure ourselves?
The first I heard of stray bullet in a home was in 2014, listening to my friend Amaka Dehniece’s testimony. On an evening, she’d felt a sudden inward nudge to take her from one room to her bedroom. Shortly after moving the kid, there was a loud bang. A bullet had penetrated their roof and smashed into the very spot the boy laid in few moments earlier.
I became more concerned when recently a distant friend Abas Brave posted his own experience on my Facebook timeline. A bullet had dropped into his family home. It landed on a busy part of the house, luckily, when nobody happened to pass that way.
People Got Killed
Fortunately, I haven’t had any casualties nearby. But there are countless accounts of people who either were injured or who got killed by a stray bullet in the safety of their homes.
In Ghana, a nine year old boy, Kwasi Opare Kwakye narrowly missed being hit by a stray bullet which came into his parents’ living room through the roof narrowly missed him, according to his mother. He was sitting on the exact spot where the bullet hit and created a small hole only moments before the incident. She instructed the boy to get up from the floor and no sooner had he done that than the mysterious bullet came through the roof, the ceiling and hit at the spot where he was sitting, the perplexed mother of two told Luv FM’s Erastus Asare Donkor.
Darryl McNair wasn’t as fortunate. On his 58th birthday, a stray bullet struck him while he sat at his PC playing Solitaire in his home in New Haven, Connecticut.
In January 2010, Four-year-old Marquel Peters was hit while in a church service, by a falling bullet fired two miles away during New Year celebrations. Sitting next to his parents attending a New Year church service, in Atlanta, US, the toddler suddenly collapsed at the feet of his parents bleeding from the head. It was only as doctors tried to save his life that they realized what had happened
He died just 20 minutes into the New Year.
Wikipedia documents a long list of tragedies from falling stray bullets fired in celebration.
These tragic stories have raised questions that drove me to make deeper quests. Firstly, I contacted an old colleague of mine, who today is a senior police officer and a weapons authority. He’s based in Port Harcourt; he’s an Assistant Superintendent of Police, and he agreed to contribute to this quest, but asked not to be named as he isn’t authorized to speak publicly on the subject.
I asked: “where do these bullets originate from, and why do they breach the safety of our homes?”
He answered; “Firstly, a bullet can’t be aimed at a person or a house through the roof. It doesn’t make sense. A bullet can come in through the roof if it is fired into the air and, at the point of return; it lands with its tip pointing down. It can then pass through the roof if the roof is weak or if it does not encounter any wood, steel or some other truss in the roof carcass”.
Now, I make out that we may need to start building bullet proof roofs and building exteriors. I called a practicing architect, also Port Harcourt based, to ask his opinion on the issue. Due to professional restrictions on advertisement, he also asked not to be named.
Other Missiles To Worry About
“Bullets are not the only harmful objects that can penetrate a home through the roof. Stones, wood pieces and other small missiles flying at high velocity, and even hail stones must be taken into consideration”, he says. We don’t have snow in Nigeria, which poses a risk in some other parts of the world; and incidences of hail are extremely rare. And then he walks me through architectural solutions that home builders can take advantage of:
“You can choose to insulate your ceiling. The insulation serves two purposes. Primarily, it helps maintain moderate temperature within the home; but the material can help slow down the velocity of any intruder object. Styrofoam is a common insulator that can be used.
Styrofoam is a trade name for a hydrocarbon material known as Polysterene Foam. It contains 98% air and is made by Dow Chemical Company. Its uses range from making disposable coffee cups, coolers and flasks, to packaging fragile appliances for shipment.
He also believes that Iron Trusses, rather than wood, are a good idea too. But, according to him, they are usually 1.2 meters apart up there in the roof carcass, significantly reducing the chances of stopping such marauding objects.
Perhaps the most cheering recommendation of his’ is the possibility of coating roofing sheets. Most houses in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa are roofed with corrugated zinc/steel materials. While this is cheap, it is also thin enough for a missile to perforate without losing much of its momentum.
“You can coat your zinc roofing sheets with concrete. It is relatively expensive, but for its advantages, it is highly recommended.” The advantage of this coating is that the concrete will increase the resistance of the roof sheets, while not taking away established benefits of the material including reflecting heat and thunder.
What Can Individuals Do?
Gun possession in Nigeria is theoretically more restricted than in most countries of the World. But practically speaking, one can safely speculate that thousands of above-the-law individuals possess assault weapons; mostly for self-security, but also for criminal reasons. Howbeit, Nigerian law enforcement is always on alert following unidentified gunshots. What is left to worry mostly is Celebratory gunfire – the practice of celebrating by firing shots into the air. Especially in the US, there is considerable number of casualties from falling bullets shot along with fireworks at Christmas and in New Year celebrations.
In many countries it is allowed, but in Nigeria it is in between illegal and permissible. If the gun owner owns a license, he may be excused by the police officer, but cautioned. Otherwise, he’s in trouble. The police themselves do shoot into the air to disperse hostile crowds, scare away robbers, or maybe just celebrate.
Every bullet shot into the air must return to the ground. It is suggested that if it is shot vertically into the air, it may be less dangerous than at a gradient. Forensicoutreach.com quote a California sheriff of asserting that; “A bullet fired into the air can return to earth at speeds between 300 and 700 feet per second, fast enough to pierce a person’s skull”. So, shooting in excitement, or for whatever other reason, may end up taking another person’s life.
What Can Government Do?
Shooting in the air for celebration is irresponsible in a truly civil society. Consider that even when a falling bullet has lost most of its momentum, if it penetrates soft parts of the body, it can penetrate and damage sensitive internal organs.
It is worth noting that these bullets do not only break in through the roof, but also can go through the windows and other openings in the walls.
The government should therefore ban the shooting of live ammunition into the air for whatever reason. Police, who need to do so, may be provided with rubber bullets. Regulations on the use of fireworks during festivities should also be enforced with more stringency.
The police officer friend did advise however that the best reaction to finding a bullet in your home is to leave it where you found it and report to the nearest police station. Investigations will commence and the source will be identified. If someone is hit, of course, quick first aid must be administered depending on the severity of the injury.
For the elderly and retirees, there is Homecare service provided by networks of doctors, a popular one being that by Nova Africa doctors on Call (Novadoc), for Nigeria residents. Subscribing for such services may come in handy on days of such emergencies as the stray bullet in a home situation.
Uduak Umo is a PR Consultant and Independent Public Interest Researcher, Writes in from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State