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Countywide : Police Seek to Quell New Year’s Gunshots

Police in Orange County have tried using educational posters and flyers to stop people from shooting guns in the air to celebrate New Year’s Eve, stating the obvious: what goes up must come down. But when that doesn’t work, they try good old-fashioned guilt or fear.

“Four or five years ago, a lady was sleeping in her mobile home, and a bullet came through the ceiling and landed, poof, in her pillow,” Santa Ana Police Sgt. Art Echternacht said. “If it had come down a few inches closer, she wouldn’t have been with us.”

In recent weeks, Santa Ana police have distributed more than 15,000 flyers in Spanish and English pleading with people not to discharge weapons. “We’ve put them in gun shops for the first time this year,” Echternacht said.

Police sent the flyers to Catholic churches, posted them in a Department of Motor Vehicles office and handed them out door-to-door.

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Police also printed about 2,500 flyers in Vietnamese and English for distribution in the western part of Santa Ana.

Each year, police officers see the same thing over and over--county celebrants ringing in the New Year with a fusillade of bullets in the sky.

And each year, police try to cut down on some of the partying by educating people that their bullets, fired in a moment of excitement, could mean tragedy for a friend, neighbor or stranger.

“Three years ago, we had somebody seriously injured and there were questions for a time whether they were going to make it,” Orange Police Lt. Trey Sirks said. “It is extremely dangerous because that bullet that goes up comes down, and it’s going to be going as fast as it did when it went off.”

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Echternacht said that people in Santa Ana have been fortunate to avoid fatal wounds from the celebratory shots. A few years ago, a man was slightly hurt when he was walking on a sidewalk and a bullet ricocheted off the concrete, hitting him in the calf, he said.

Sometimes it’s the people who fire the guns that get hurt. Two years ago, a 30-year-old man was severely injured in Fountain Valley when an antique cannon fired to celebrate the new year exploded. The man, from Westminster, lost two legs and an arm.

Police from around the county said that residents jam police telephone lines to report gunshots around Christmas and the end of each year. Between 6 p.m. this Christmas Eve and 6 a.m. the day after Christmas, 161 people called Santa Ana police to report gunfire, Echternacht said.

Sirks said the Orange department received 15 to 20 calls during that time, and police seized several firearms--including rifles--from random shooters.

“If we catch them doing it they can expect to have their weapon confiscated, to be arrested and be prosecuted,” Sirks said. “Should they hurt somebody, they can have serious felony charges brought against them, including homicide charges should somebody die.”

Sirks said the flyers and brochures his department distributes emphasize that shooting guns for fun is “not an acceptable tradition and practice in California.”

“It’s something we will not tolerate,” he said.


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