Over the last couple of years, my wife has looked at me while we're sitting on our patio and asked this question: "Were those gunshots or firecrackers and fireworks?"

My daughter Molly, who watches waaaaaaaaaay too many "true crime" cable shows, looks at it differently, as she's almost always certain that it's gunshots.

My son, tending to be a bit calmer about things, tends not to notice the noises to begin with. I figure that when you've cranked up the volume on "Gears Of War" as long and often as he does, anything short of a fuel-air explosive is hardly noteworthy.

As for me, I'm a gun guy. I've fired thousands of rounds at various ranges over the years, and to be completely honest, there are lots of times that I'm not sure if those sounds are gunshots or fireworks.

The question, as we approach Independence Day on the 4th of July, can you tell the difference, and if so, how?

Kevin Creighton, a firearms expert who writes a column for AmmoMan.com says:

So the biggest way to tell the difference is going to be how you’re hearing the sound--there’s going to be a natural, mechanical restriction on how fast you can fire the gun. It’s going to tend to make it sound rhythmic. With a fire cracker, that doesn’t come into play because they go off on their schedule because they are triggered by the fuse that’s lit.

Kevin's advice is to listen to the rhythm of the sounds. If it's rhythmic, it's probably gunshots, if it's staccato, it's likely firecrackers or fireworks.

I had a neighbor once who was a former soldier. He told me the way he can tell the difference is the smoke. Modern ammunition is basically "smokeless," but firecrackers and fireworks contain black powder, which creates smoke when they go off.

I think this video does a pretty good job of illustrating the differences between gunshots and fireworks:

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