City officials: Leave guns, fireworks out of New Year's Eve celebrations

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PHOENIX -- Officials and law-enforcement agencies throughout the Valley are encouraging people to ring in the new year safely this weekend, reminding them that it's not only illegal to fire a gun into the air, it also illegal to set off air-borne fireworks.

Enacted in July 2000, Shannon's Law makes it a felony to discharge a firearm randomly into the air within city or town limits. It's named for Shannon Smith, the 14-year-old Phoenix girl who was killed by a stray bullet in June 1999. She was talking on the phone in her Central Phoenix backyard when the bullet, which was fire from more than a mile away, hit her in the head. She died instantly.

At the time firing a gun into the air was a misdemeanor.

Shannon's parents launched a campaign to implement harsher penalties for those caught firing randomly. Groups like the National Rifle Association opposed the legislation.

Three years after Shannon's Law went into effect, the Glendale Police Department began a Shot-Spotter program, which can detect and pinpoint the exact location of a gunshot.

A big component of Shannon's Law is education. In the years since the law was enacted, police have made a concerted effort to spread the word about the dangers of random gunfire. that effort has paid off. In the past nine years, random gunfire calls on New Year's Eve have dropped from a peak of 750 to just 150. Despite the major improvement, police say even one call is one too many.

"This is not a time to fire your weapon," Sgt. Tommy Thompson said. "This is a time to celebrate. Figure out another way, but don't do it with guns."

To remind people that firing a gun into the air is a felony under Shannon's Law, officers will be distributing some 50,000 fliers throughout the city over the next few days. On New Year's Eve, the Police Department will put 100 extra officers on the street to help crack down on random gunfire.

They're also asking for your help.

"If you see somebody and can guide us in to an address, let us know where to look, that's when you call the police," Thompson said.

In addition to random gunfire, police and firefighters also are warning people about fireworks. While it's been legal to buy fireworks in Arizona since Dec. 1, 2010, it's illegal to use them in most cities. The confusing part is that each city has its own ordinances.

"Here in Phoenix, they're basically illegal to use," said Capt. Scott Walk of the Phoenix Fire Department.

According to the state law, people 16 and older can buy and use "deregulated novelties and permissible consumer fireworks." Fireworks that shoot anything into the air, shoot flames or explode are still illegal everywhere. That includes bottle rockets, firecrackers, roman candles and single-tube devices.

The state law also permits each city and town to restrict the use of the fireworks allowed by state law in any way officials see fit. That means that while it is legal to buy certain kinds of fireworks, it might be illegal to use them depending on where you are.

Deregulated novelties like smoke balls, snakes, poppers, and hand-held sparklers are generally allowed in most cities.

If you have any questions or want to know about a specific item, call your city's fire department. They will know exactly what is and is not allowed.

Prior to the December 2010 law, it had been illegal to buy fireworks in Arizona for 50 years. Once the new law kicked in, fireworks stands started popping up everywhere, especially right before the July 4, the first Independence Day for which it was legal to buy certain kinds of fireworks.

Phoenix fire officials were just as concerned about it then as they are now.

"Just don't buy them at all," Walker said a couple of days before the holiday. "Don't use them at all. Let the professionals do the fireworks show."

The penalty for illegally setting off fireworks, which is a misdemeanor, is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.