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Houston area residents fed up with celebratory gunfire, fireworks

HOUSTON – Many Houston and Harris County residents said they are tired of dealing with rampant fireworks and gunfire going off in their neighborhoods during major holidays.

“It was like guns everywhere,” said Rosemarie Semiens. “I was pissed off because I was getting startled in my sleep because all I could hear is pop, pop, pop, pop. I'm like, 'Damn, go to bed people!’ People have to get up in the morning.” 

Semiens lives at the Wilcrest Park apartments in southwest Houston -- the same complex where police said a stray bullet from what is believed to be celebratory gunfire flew through a window and hit a man in the arm. 

Even with police and paramedics in the area, the sound of fireworks and gunshots could still be heard. 

“They start up early in this neighborhood,” said Maurice Presley, who lives off Kashmere in northeast Houston.

Presley said he started hearing gunshots about 7 p.m. and the gunfire kept going “right up until police arrived.” Empty shell casings were found in an empty lot next to Presley’s home. Police did arrest three people here and recovered six guns. Officers said one of those guns had been reported as stolen during a burglary.

“Projectiles do fly and they do land through roofs. I just maintain a position against the wall or something,” said Presley.

Last New Year's Eve, Houston police logged 1,500 calls about celebratory gunfire. Numbers for 2018 are not available yet, but the problem is not expected to have lessened.

“Go out to an open field and do that, you're in a neighborhood where there's homes, people driving in cars, a bullet has nobody's name on it so they need to stop,” Semiens said.

Councilman Mike Laster said warnings from the mayor, police and fire chiefs are not having enough of an impact to deter the problem of fireworks and celebratory gunfire.

“It sounded like a cross between the War of 1812 and the Tet Offensive,” Laster said about his southwest Houston neighborhood. “We have to make this an ongoing, continuous conversation that this is a problem, that this is what good neighbors don't do.” 

Laster said he wants to explore ways to have homeowner and civic associations help the city identify areas where there are frequent gunfire and fireworks during major holidays. Laster also said he would explore the possibility of further curtailing the sale of fireworks.

“We need to look and see if we need to enforce the sales element in Harris County, in metropolitan counties, and prohibit the sales,” said Laster.

However, Laster said the biggest problem is getting people to consider their neighbors before shooting a gun or lighting a firecracker.

“Do we know whether our neighbor has PTSD and is suffering as a veteran? Do we know whether an elderly person has a condition, do we know whether a young family has a baby, and for some of us, do we know whether our pets are going to sustain this problem?” Laster said.