HOUSTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Police in Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles are warning that New Year's Eve revelers who are caught firing guns into the air could face jail time.
Innocent bystanders have been killed and wounded in recent years by the random gunfire, the shooters not realizing that a bullet falling from the sky at 300 to 700 feet per second can penetrate a human skull.
In 1992, a 6-year-old Dallas boy lying in his bed was struck in the face by an errant bullet 30 minutes after midnight on New Year's Day. In 1994, in New Orleans, a tourist at a French Quarter celebration was fatally wounded by another errant bullet.
"It's dangerous, it's illegal and many people don't realize that if you get caught, you're going to jail," Lt. Bill Hoffman told the Houston Chronicle.
Random gunfire is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one year in jail and $4,000 fine in Texas. Anyone who injures or kills someone with a stray bullet could face more serious felony charges.
In Dallas, warnings were aired Tuesday in special public service announcements on television and radio and posters in grocery stores, recreation centers and sports venues. The city has aggressively attacked the problem for more than a decade.
Dallas Cpl. Chris Gilliam said most of the revelers don't realize the danger of a falling bullet. Some also think they will never get caught by police officers spread out across the city.
"We are urging people to call and report those individuals to the police," he said. "It seems to be one of the ways to capture people's attention."
Complaints about random shooting in Dallas on New Year's Eve have declined from about 1,000 in 1999 to 800 in each of the last two years.
Property damage is another byproduct of New Year's Eve gunfire. Shattered windows as well as damaged roofs are often found after a night of celebration.
In Los Angeles, city officials have launched their annual campaign to reduce indiscriminate gunfire, promising aggressive prosecution of violators. A conviction can bring up to a year in jail.
Police will deploy task force officers New Year's Eve to curb the random gunfire that has become a tradition in many cities. It can be a dangerous assignment, however. An officer assigned to the gunfire reduction campaign was killed last year during an investigation of gang activity at a New Year's Eve party.
In 1997, 42 arrests were made on New Year's Eve for gunfire related crimes and 50 guns were seized by police.
Police have teamed with the Los Angeles schools in a campaign focusing on the dangers of random shooting. Students submit either a poster or an essay depicting the dangers of celebratory gunfire.
Researchers have found that a bullet fired into the air can climb 2 miles and remain in flight for more than a minute. A falling bullet can reach a velocity of 300 to 700 feet per second -- easily enough to penetrate a human skull -- police report.