Los Angeles officials are warning that anyone discharging a firearm into the air to celebrate the new year not only risks killing someone but could also face a lengthy prison sentence.
"Firing into the air weapons in celebration puts innocent lives at risk," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said last week. "Nothing ruins the holiday season like an errant bullet coming down and killing an innocent."
Villaraigosa said the misuse of firearms is on everyone's mind in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left six adults and 20 children dead. The mayor vowed that authorities will pursue criminal charges for anyone caught in possession of a weapon in public.
For more than a decade, city and county leaders have tried to quell celebratory gunfire.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said a bullet discharged into the air falls at a rate of 300 to 700 mph, depending on the weapon — "easily enough to crack the human skull."
"Please celebrate New Year's with your family, not in [Sheriff] Lee Baca's jail or my jail," Beck said, pledging to capture anyone firing a weapon. "Firing a gun in the air isn't only dangerous and a crime but socially unacceptable."
L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said that anyone caught firing a weapon — even if they don't hit someone — will face a felony charge and a fine of up to $10,000 and a possible three-year sentence. A conviction would be considered a strike offense and the suspect would lose the right to own a firearm.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that in some county areas, special equipment has been deployed to spot shots within seconds and track their locations.
"The madness of gun violence has to stop," he said. "This is a matter of physics. What goes up must come down."