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Houston Trying to Stop New Year's Eve Gunfire

Every year, people around the world celebrating the arrival of a new year by firing guns into the air injure and kill others. The city of Houston, Texas is making a special effort this year to discourage gunfire on New Year's Eve.

The coming of the new year is a time of celebration that often turns rowdy and dangerous in some Houston neighborhoods. The tradition of shooting guns in the air at midnight is especially popular in Hispanic neighborhoods. But while most people firing weapons are not doing it with any malicious intent, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says they will be held responsible for the consequences.

"If a stray bullet is fired from a gun and kills someone, you will be charged with criminal homicide," he said. "If you injure a child, then, of course, the charges will be enhanced."

Most people firing guns in the air assume that the bullets will fall to ground with no effect, but Houston Police Lieutenant Steve Phares says that is a dangerous misconception.

"If anybody thinks that that bullet comes back down like a feather floating, you are greatly mistaken. That bullet comes back down and it can go through your roof, it can go through a car roof, it can go through a trailer home roof," said Lieutenant Phares. "It will go through a skull and it will kill."

Lieutenant Phares says a bullet fired in the air can travel more than three kilometers before descending back to earth.

Houston is not the only city facing this threat to life and property from small arms fire on holidays. The International Action Network on Small Arms reports that gunfire at weddings, religious holidays and other occasions have produced deaths and injuries in South Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans region of Europe.

In countries like Macedonia and Serbia, which were torn by civil conflict in recent years, gun ownership and misuse is common. The United Nations has supported a campaign in those nations with the slogan "Bullets are not greeting cards, celebrate without weapons."

Next month, a preliminary meeting will be held at United Nations headquarters in New York in preparation for a conference in June on the problem of small arms around the world. Celebratory gunfire is just one of the problems related to ownership of such weapons and U.N. agencies, along with some non-governmental organizations, are trying to discourage people from owning guns or from misusing them.