Growing up in a small pueblo in Durango, Mexico, Carlos Cerda remembers New Year’s Eve by the sound of gunfire.
The men would run out at midnight and fire their pistols into the air, he said. For Cerda, it was safest to hide under the table.
“That was a little traumatizing,” he said in Spanish. “The most dangerous part about it is that you don’t know where the bullets came from or where they went.”
Now, he lives in the Northside and his family rings in the new year in church. There might be fireworks, but gunshots are a given.
This is the reality for residents all over Fort Worth, many of whom might spend the night welcoming the new year, but nervous about where the stray bullets will land.
Celebratory gunfire isn’t unique to Fort Worth. While there isn’t any national data on casualties, a 2004 study conducted in Puerto Rico by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most common injuries from stray bullets were to the head.
In 2015, Javier Suarez Rivera, 43, was killed in Houston by a stray bullet on New Year’s Eve while watching fireworks, according to Reuters.
In 2016, state Rep. Armando Martinez, a Democrat from Weslaco, was hit in the head by a stray bullet while celebrating with his family on New Year’s Eve. A few days after undergoing surgery, he announced that he would introduce legislation to reduce or prevent celebratory gun firings. That bill never made it out of the House.
According to the Texas Tribune, no law in Texas deals specifically with celebratory gunfire. Some gun laws focus how a city or county can regulate the firing of guns in their jurisdictions. In Fort Worth, celebratory gunfire is illegal, according to public information officer Buddy Calzada.
The Fort Worth Police Department said it will issue citations on New Year’s Eve to anyone shooting fireworks within city limits, which is illegal.
“We also discourage anyone from firing random shots in the air because what goes up, must come down,” Calzada said.
But another Northside resident Bulmaro Gomez Jr., 27, doesn’t worry too much about stray bullets. He and his family are usually too busy in their own festivities.
Starting in the afternoon, the men in his family will start cooking chicharrón, tripa and carnitas. Meanwhile, the women get started on tamales. “It’s all about passing down the tradition of how to make the masa, the dough,” Gomez said.
As it gets closer to midnight, the Gomez family will turn on Univision to watch the Times Square Ball Drop in New York. Then everyone eats 12 grapes, wishing for something different on each one for the new year. At midnight Gomez wishes all of his relatives a happy new year, and calls those who aren’t present with him.
Gomez pointed out that it’s difficult to stop people from celebratory gunfire. Even if law enforcement is called, by the time an officer arrives, it’s already been done and people are back inside their homes. So he offered another solution.
“If you’re going to do it and no one can stop you, at least shoot into the ground,” he said. “We don’t want you to do it but at least shoot to the ground instead of in the air.”
How to report
Fort Worth residents can report fireworks or gunshots by calling 817-392-4222.