Police urging people to holster their guns this New Year's Eve

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Random gunfire a felony under Shannon's Law

PHOENIX -- Police officers, civic leaders and members of various community groups are once again reminding people that firing guns into the air is no way to welcome the new year.

This ongoing campaign against random celebratory gunfire started with the death of Shannon Smith in 1999. Just 14 years old, Shannon was in the backyard of her Central Phoenix home talking on the phone when she was struck by a random bullet. She died instantly. The bullet that killed the teen was fired into the air more than a mile away from her home.

"This is still an unsolved case in the city of Phoenix," Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department said last year as 2012 drew to a close.

At the time of Shannon's death, firing a gun into the air was a misdemeanor.

Shannon's parents launched a campaign to implement harsher penalties for those caught firing randomly. While former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and many community groups gave the Smiths their full support, groups like the National Rifle Association initially opposed the legislation.

Enacted in July 2000, Shannon's Law made firing into the air a Class 6 felony, which means if you pull the trigger to celebrate the turning of the year, you'll be committing a serious crime.

A Class 6 felony is the lowest ranking felony offense but because a weapon is involved the charge can be classified as a "dangerous offense." That means those convicted, even if they are first-time offenders, are not eligible for probation and are usually sentenced to mandatory prison time -- a minimum of 1.5 years and up to three years. There are also significant fines that can be imposed.

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.

Phoenix Police said in January that there was an 11 percent decrease in random gunfire from New Year's Eve 2011 to New Year's Eve 2012.

They're hoping to continue that trend this year as people celebrate the end of 2013 and the arrival of 2014. That's why officers from the Maryvale Precinct will be passing out fliers at the entrances and exits of the Wal-Mart at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road Thursday starting at 10 a.m.

While there has been considerable reduction in random gunfire incidents in the years since Shannon's Law went into effect, police have a specific goal in mind -- no random gunfire.