Starr County officials push initiative to curb celebratory gunfire

RIO GRANDE CITY — A new effort among Starr County officials to crack down on celebratory gunfire will continue throughout the year.

The effort, announced at the end of 2017, partnered the Starr County District Attorney’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office with law enforcement agencies in an attempt to crack down on the discharge of firearms.

Noting a willingness to prosecute, District Attorney Omar Escobar said agencies were asked to be aware of such gunfire.

While there hadn’t been a uniformed effort before, Escobar described the communication between the agencies as a way to get authorities on the same wavelength.

Part of this effort, he said, included deciding the appropriate charges.

In a notice to residents posted on social media, officials warned that anyone caught firing a gun could expect to be charged with disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor. That could result in a minimum sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

This year, the sheriff’s office had 48 calls regarding shots fired, according to Major Carlos Delgado. No arrests were made.

Although celebratory gunfire has always been an issue, the DA said the problem became larger on their radar after state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, was struck in the head by a stray bullet shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day 2017.

“Ever since then, we kinda had that in our mind,” Escobar said.

Early last year, Rio Grande City’s city council approved an ordinance to regulate the discharge of firearms within the city.

Per the ordinance, residents who discharged firearms into the air would receive a fine not to exceed $500 per casing.

That penalty would be in addition to the fine imposed on them by the county.

Not only will the effort continue throughout the year, Escobar said, but they hope to partner with more agencies on the issue.

“We’re hoping to start a trend,” he said.

The notice to the public, he added, serves as a request for the community to be on the lookout.

“And if citizens can provide us evidence and record it,” Escobar said, “then we’ll take it.”