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Bill criminalizing celebratory gunfire on life support in House

House Bill 2583 would charge anyone who shoots a gun without an intended target with a Class A misdemeanor — or a first-degree felony if a serious bodily injury or death occurs as a result.

State Rep. Armando Martinez on March 21, 2011.

A bill that criminalizes celebratory gunfire in Texas — filed by a House member who was hit by what was apparently a stray bullet on New Year's Eve — is a long shot to reach the governor's desk.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, was with family and friends near Weslaco for a New Year's celebration when the bullet struck him. He had surgery later that day to remove it from his head and recovered fully.

The bill that Martinez filed to prevent it from happening to others, however, did not survive Thursday’s deadline for the House to do second readings of bills. Martinez said he would spend the remainder of the legislative session searching for another bill that he could attach the legislation to as an amendment.

House Bill 2583 would charge anyone who shoots a gun without an intended target 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.

“Fortunately, it happened to me. Although it was an unfortunate accident, it could’ve been more tragic if it had it hit one of my kids who were in front of me,” Martinez said. “This measure was a way to criminalize celebratory gunfire to make sure this doesn’t happen to somebody else.”

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 in their jurisdictions or the reckless or intentional firing of a gun.

The bill was voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee earlier this month in a 4-3 vote.

Martinez said he had to reword the bill’s caption and send it back to the committee to clarify that those who violated the proposed law would be charged with a “criminal offense” versus an “offense” — a two-week delay that he said may have caused it to miss the crucial House deadline.

The bill earned the support of several Democrats on the committee, including state Reps. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

“I wish most people would understand the concept of ‘what comes up, must come down,’ but they don’t,” Canales told The Texas Tribune Monday. “Unfortunately, one of our own representatives had to be the victim of that celebratory gunfire in order for this to hit the House floor.”

Opponents criticized the bill as too broad. CJ Grisham with Open Carry Texas told the Tribune that he was glad the legislation didn’t meet the Thursday House deadline and “shouldn’t have been filed in the first place."

“I support the intent, but I don’t support the execution,” Grisham said. “If I’m out on my farm putting together one of my firearms and ... I just shoot into my grass and I don’t have a target — that would literally make me a criminal under this bill.”

Grisham also said that the gunshot that hit Martinez could’ve been a result of “two gangs actually shooting at each other.”

Martinez, however, said comments like these were “extremely stereotypical.”

“This has happened in far more areas than what he suspects,” Martinez said. “This has nothing to do with gang violence. It has to do with non-responsible gun owners who are firing their guns up in the air.”

Martinez said he plans to continue educating people on the dangers of recklessly discharging firearms.

“We’re going to continue to push this,” Martinez said. “We just have to continue to move on and figure what we can do in the future to get this passed.”

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Courts Criminal justice State government 85th Legislative Session Armando "Mando" Martinez Guns In Texas Texas Legislature