Bill penalizing celebratory gunfire up for debate in House panel

AUSTIN, Texas -- Last New Year's Eve, state Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, was hit in the head by a stray bullet from a gun fired into the air. Now he’s taking measures to prevent it from happening to others. 

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard testimony Monday for House Bill 2583, which would create a penalty for individuals who knowingly discharge a firearm without an intended target. 

“I was hit with a stray bullet. It pierced my skull and it was lodged in my brain. …We’re talking about two millimeters from [me] not being here today,” Martinez said Monday. “With that in mind, I’m an NRA gun-carrying member and I have a CHL, but this isn’t about preventing people from carrying or purchasing a gun. This is about being a responsible gun owner.” 

Currently, there is no law in Texas dealing specifically with celebratory gunfire. Similar gun laws only touch upon how a city or county can regulate the firing of guns or the reckless or intentional firing of a gun. 

Under Martinez's bill, however, those who shoot a gun without an intended target would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor — or a first-degree felony if a serious bodily injury or death occurs as a result. There would be no offense if the shooting occurred at a gun range, while legally hunting or using blanks. 

“This is mainly to deter celebratory gunfire. It is a solution to a problem that should not exist,”Martinez said. “People firing randomly puts life at risk.” 

Martinez was north of Weslaco with family and friends for a New Year's Eve celebration when the stray bullet struck him. He underwent surgery later that day and was reported to be in stable condition several hours later. 

Martinez later said the bullet "felt like a sledgehammer hitting the back of my head.” 

During Monday’s hearing, Martinez was met with support from committee members, including state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. 

“Most people don’t have any concept that a bullet can travel three to four miles in a blink of an eye. I think education is one thing, but I think that people need to know this is idiotic,” Canales said. 

While many testified in favor of Martinez’s proposal, one gun rights advocate said the bill as written was “too broad.” In testifying against the bill, CJ Grisham with Open Carry Texas said the law would prohibit him from firing warning shots. 

“I wonder if [celebratory gunfire] is as big of a problem as we say it is,” he added. “They always typically happen in border towns and places like Los Angeles and where gangs are common.” 

To which Canales responded, “Do me a favor when you leave here: Google celebratory gunfire.” 

Martinez said he filed his bill to encourage safety when using firearms. 

“The goal of House Bill 2583 is to prevent reckless shootings because they can kill someone,” Martinez said. “All you have to do is shoot at a target. If you shoot at a target, you are not liable.” 

His measure was left pending in committee.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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