Not everyone realizes if they welcome 2010 by firing a gun in the air or purchasing something as small as sparklers that they could face hefty fines or even jail time — with the strictest regulations inside city limits.
Houston-area authorities, who Tuesday vowed to strictly enforce all the rules, stressed the improper or illegal use of fireworks and guns had caused many revelries in the past to end with deaths, injuries and fires.
Last New Year’s Eve, a 19-year-old Dickinson resident blew a huge hole in his hand when he attempted to steady a launcher while shooting a baseball-sized artillery shell.
His was the worst of a dozen fireworks injuries treated at Memorial Hermann Hospital that night, hospital officials said.
At the same time, fireworks-related fires are a serious problem — especially in Harris County — where more than 30 percent of all consumer fireworks are sold in the state.
The 2008 New Year’s holiday was one of the worst on record in Harris County. More than 340 blazes were reported before and after Jan. 1. That number dropped significantly to 149 fires last New Year’s.
But perhaps the most lethal form of revelry is the tradition of firing a gun to commemorate a new year.
Even bullets directed at the sky can be deadly, said Kirk Munden, Houston Police Department spokesman.
“What goes up, must come down,” he said. “These pieces of lead don’t fall gently to the ground. Their velocity slows but they are still traveling fast enough to penetrate a vehicle, window, roof or human skull. It can kill you.”
Assistant Houston Police Chief Dorothy Edwards has firsthand knowledge of this fact. She said a bullet shot by a New Year’s Eve reveler came through her skylight while she was home. Luckily, she was not in the room where it happened.
“What people don’t realize is that there is no real justification for firing a weapon in celebration of a new year,” said Katherine Cabaniss, executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston. “It is a crime, and not just inside cities that outlaw celebratory firing. There are other weapons charges that can apply anywhere.”
State law prohibits the discharging of a firearm in celebration in any city with 100,000 population. The penalty for a violation can be up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
If the gun is fired in less populated unincorporated areas, an individual could face reckless conduct charges or even attempted aggravated assault.
Nonetheless, Munden said Houston police received 362 calls reporting gunfire last New Year’s Eve, although that number represented a 14 percent decrease from the year before.
As for fireworks, residents violate the law if they use or even possess them inside most city limits. This includes sparklers and any consumer fireworks, but excludes novelties such as snappers, snakes and champagne tops, authorities said.
Violators face possible fines of $500 to $2,000 per incident.
Those living in rural unincorporated areas also can be fined if they shoot fireworks within 600 feet of a church, hospital or school or within a 100 feet of where fireworks or flammable agents are stored. They also may be penalized for tossing fireworks at or from a vehicle.
Shannon Brinkley, chairman of the Harris County chapter of the Texas Fireworks Association, said fireworks don’t pose any danger if used properly.
“There are fewer fireworks-related fires than those caused by backfires from a car,” he said.
Fireworks has become big business in Texas with 4,000 licensed stores and stands, including 530 in Harris County, he said.