Local News

Wednesday, Jan 02 2013 07:20 PM

Firing celebratory gunshots illegal, potentially deadly

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

New Year's is a cause for celebration, but firing a gun as part of the festivities can land you in jail and potentially be deadly.

The Kern County Sheriff's Department received 81 calls reporting illegal shooting from 11 p.m. Monday to 2 a.m. Tuesday, 911 coordinator Christina Bruce said. That's about average for New Year's, and way above average for any other day of the year.

Bruce said the department usually receives three to four calls a week reporting illegal shooting.

Bakersfield Police Department spokeswoman Michaela Beard said officers received 37 calls for shots heard between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Bakersfield municipal code prohibits discharging a gun within city limits, said Kern County Assistant District Attorney Scott J. Spielman. Maximum punishment is six months in jail.

The punishment can be far worse, however, if the offender is charged with discharging a gun in a grossly negligent manner. A person can be charged with that offense if they shoot the gun in a manner that could result in injury or death.

That includes firing a gun into the air.

"What goes up must come down," Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford said Wednesday.

Discharging a gun in a grossly negligent manner is a "wobbler," meaning prosecutors can charge it as either a misdemeanor or felony, Pafford said. At most, a person convicted of the offense can be sentenced to three years in prison.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said that, depending on the circumstances, more charges than just firing a gun in a grossly negligent manner can be filed against someone who decides to pop off a few shots just for the fun of it. If the shooter has previously been convicted of a felony, for example, there could be additional charges.

"It depends on the totality of the circumstances," Pruitt said.

It appears that firing a gun as part of celebrating New Year's played a role in the shooting of 25-year-old Abel Gurrola. Police were called to an apartment complex in the 700 block of Terrace Way at 12:05 a.m. Tuesday for reports of shots fired, and officers heard shots as they walked through the complex.

Police said officers saw Gurrola holding a rifle, and he refused to drop the gun after they identified themselves as police and ordered him to drop the weapon. Gurrola ran and was shot after a short chase.

Gurrola was pronounced dead Tuesday at Kern Medical Center, according to a coroner's office news release.

Gurrola's brother, Gabriel Gurrola said he and his brother were taking turns firing a .22 rifle into the ground. He said they fired six shots.

Now the Gurrola family's festive mood has turned somber as they're now planning a funeral.

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