Lassiter Basket bought his .22-caliber handgun in 1963 and in recent years has fired it just twice a year — on New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July. He says he uses blanks for safety and shoots in the privacy of his Forest Park row house.
"Other people fire firecrackers," the white-haired 82-year-old said. "It's just a noisemaker."
But on Thursday, police say Basket had live ammunition in his gun when he fired off a round that blasted through the wall of his great-granddaughter's bedroom. While the 17-year-old escaped with minor wounds to her wrists and leg, the shooting serves as another reminder of the dangers of celebratory gunfire.
Basket said police are "mistaken" and that he's certain that he had a blank in the chamber, but Detective Angela Carter-Watson, a police spokeswoman, said investigators recovered evidence of a real bullet at the scene.
For years, officials have urged residents to refrain from celebratory gunfire as injuries mount. Celebratory gunfire this past New Year's Eve claimed the life of a Cecil County girl. In 2011, a falling bullet injured a 4-year-old boy at Fourth of July celebrations at the Inner Harbor.
Basket took Tashira Holley, his great-granddaughter, to a local hospital shortly before midnight Thursday.
He said he had walked out of his bedroom on the second floor, pointed the handgun down the hall and pulled the trigger, confident he had loaded it with blanks he keeps in a purple cloth bag that once held a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. He said he keeps his real ammunition separate, in a Remington box.
To his surprise, the bullet wasn't harmless.
"She said, 'Granddad, I'm hit,' and I said, 'You can't be,' " Basket said.
Doctors tended to Holley's wounds and X-rayed her wrists but found no life-threatening injuries. Holley sat on the front porch of her house Friday with gauze bandages around both wrists, which were resting in her lap over pink Snoopy pajama pants.
"I wasn't surprised when it happened, but I was surprised when I saw the blood," Holley said. "I'm glad it's all right."
Other recent incidents have turned out to be more serious.
Ten-year-old Aaliyah Boyer was in an Elkton yard watching fireworks with her family on New Year's Eve when she fell to the ground. Initially, her family thought she had fainted, but it quickly became clear that she was severely injured. She died after two days on life support.
Police were unable to trace where the bullet came from, and there is no law in that part of the state barring celebratory gunfire.
In 2011, Kavin Benson, a 4-year-old celebrating the Fourth of July with his family at the Inner Harbor, suffered a dime-size wound near his hip from a falling bullet. The slug lodged behind his femur, where doctors were obliged to leave it. He has recovered. No one was ever charged.
Many local governments, including in Baltimore and Baltimore County, have passed laws that prohibit the "unlawful discharge" of guns. Exceptions include self-defense, licensed target ranges, and some military and hunting occasions.
Basket said he kept his celebratory gunfire indoors and used blanks out of safety concerns. He stood by a citizen's right to bear arms.
"I think guns are necessary for people who know how to use them," Basket said. "If you don't have a way of protecting yourself, police are not going to be here to give you help."
Police have not charged Basket with any crime, but officers are consulting with the state's attorney's office about the matter, Carter-Watson said. Officers seized his weapon Thursday night, and he does not plan to replace it.
"It won't happen again because I'm not buying anything else," Basket said. "I have to now depend on the Police Department to do their job."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.
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