By: Mark Diaz
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How Common Are Galveston Shooting Crimes?
While it might seem like an easy process to review crime reports, assess data, and crunch the numbers to determine the frequency of Galveston shooting crimes, getting an accurate picture is somewhat challenging. There are numerous factors that lead to inconsistencies, particularly what constitutes a shooting crime when looking at US statutes versus Texas statutes, and others. However, statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety and other resources shed some light on shooting crime rates:
- Of the 1,400 murders that occur in Texas every year, more than 80 percent are through the use of a firearm.
- Law enforcement officers make almost 13,000 arrests annually for a wide range of weapons law violations, including shooting crimes.
- The vast majority of arrests are male at more than 10,000 offenders; of the adult men charged with gun crimes, almost half fall in the 25 to 39 year age group.
- Texas ranks third in terms of the number of mass shootings that occurred between 1982 and May 2021. There were 11 such incidents in the state during this time period.
Even if these figures do not provide an exact number on Galveston shooting crimes, they do tell a story: Police are increasing their efforts to apprehend offenders, and prosecutors will follow up by aggressively pursuing charges for gun crimes. Retaining a criminal defense lawyer in Galveston is a priority if you were arrested for this type of charge, and some background information can explain what to expect.
Introductory Notes on Gun Offenses
It is important to understand some points and definitions to put shooting crimes into context. At the outset, note that this discussion focuses on how the act of firing a weapon is a crime, instead of what offense might be the end result of shooting it. In other words, the point is that shooting a gun is illegal, regardless of whether you cause property damage, injure, or kill someone – all of which are separate offenses.
Additional notable factors include:
- Almost any act of firing a gun is illegal UNLESS you are at a shooting range, on your own private property, or have permission from another private property owner, or acting lawfully in defense of self or others.
- Gun offenses in Texas generally fall into two categories: Unlawful possession and unlawful use.
- Unlawful use of a firearm may be the act of shooting, but some acts are still illegal even when you do not fire the weapon.
- It is possible to violate Texas gun laws by being in possession of illegal weapons, including certain firearms. However, there are numerous items under the definition of an illegal weapon, such as modified firearms, grenades, rockets, silencers, armor-piercing ammunition, and others.
Types of Galveston Shooting Crimes
Taking the specific context of Galveston shooting crimes, Texas has enacted laws regarding the unlawful discharge of a firearm. The statute provides that it is illegal to engage in reckless behavior that endangers the safety of other people, i.e., deadly conduct. Deadly conduct includes any acts that place someone in imminent danger of serious bodily injury, so you could face charges for unlawful discharge of a firearm by:
- Knowingly firing a gun in the direction of one or more individuals; and,
- Knowingly discharging a firearm in the direction of a dwelling, structure, or vehicle with reckless disregard of whether there is someone inside.
Texas also has a statute on disorderly conduct involving a firearm, which may be a shooting OR non-shooting gun crime. It is illegal to fire a gun in a public place in a manner intended to alarm others, sometimes referred to as a “warning” shot where you aim the pistol into the air. The same law prohibits displaying a firearm in a way calculated to cause alarm, a non-shooting offense.
Non-Shooting Firearms Charges in Texas
The class of weapons crimes that do not involve shooting is much more expansive to include various types of illegal possession and unlawful acts that are connected to firearms. However, significant changes to the law with regards to firearm possession go into effect in Texas on September 1, 2021. Despite the recent changes in the law, alleged offenses committed before this date may still be prosecuted under the previous law. Therefore, it is still important to understand the nature of the prior law. Below are brief explanations of possession related gun offenses as it existed prior to September 1, 2021.
Aside from when you are on your own property, at premises under your control, or when on your way to a vehicle, it is illegal to have a firearm on your person. Unlawful carry of a weapon (UCW) is also a crime:
- If you carry in plain view without the proper license;
- When you are engaged in criminal activity other than a Class C Misdemeanor directly related to violation of a traffic or boating law; or,
- If you are a member of a street gang as designated by law.
Unlawful Carry Based Upon Status
In addition, it is illegal to carry a gun if you are prohibited by law from doing so, and it is this aspect of the law that often leads to charges. Together, federal and Texas statutes impose a bar on possessing a firearm if you were convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence misdemeanors; individuals subject to court orders on domestic violence or mental issues could also face UCW charges for carrying a firearm. However, state law does allow a person who has been charged with a felony to possess a gun at home once five years have passed since serving the sentence.
Illegal Carrying in Certain Locations
It is a crime to have a firearm on your person in:
- A school or educational institution, including the surrounding grounds and structures where school-related activities take place;
- A polling place;
- Courthouses and offices utilized by the Texas court system;
- A racetrack;
- The secured areas of an airport; and,
- Areas where executions take place.
Trespassing with a Firearm
Property owners have the right to post signs that guns are not allowed on the premises, such as stores, offices, restaurants, and other spaces. Regardless of whether you have the proper license, or are open or concealed carrying, it is illegal to defy the signage. However, the offense is not a gun offense; the charges would be for trespassing.
Penalties for Galveston Gun Crimes
Many non-shooting firearms offenses are designated as a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both. Other gun crimes, including offenses that involve firing the weapon, are charged as felonies. Plus, under certain circumstances, you could be subject to felony punishment, even when the offense is designated as a Class A Misdemeanor.
Texas law provides for enhanced penalties when a gun crime occurs in a weapon-free school zone, bumping up the punitive outcomes. A judge could sentence you to the penalties for a State Jail Felony, which includes 180 days to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.
For other shooting and non-shooting gun offenses that are classified as felonies, the punishment may be:
- A conviction for a Third Degree Felony could lead to a minimum sentence of two years in prison, though a judge could order up to 10 years’ incarceration. You may also be ordered to pay a fine of $10,000.
- For a Second Degree Felony conviction, there is also a mandatory minimum of two years’ imprisonment, and the maximum prison term is 20 years.
Aside from the penalties imposed by the court, there are many other ramifications that impact your life after completing your sentence. These effects are termed collateral consequences because they are separate from the criminal case, but they do impose limitations. A misdemeanor or felony conviction will remain part of your criminal record, so it will be uncovered in a background search. Under certain circumstances, you may have a duty to disclose a criminal conviction. Collateral consequences can be extensive in terms of scope and duration. For instance:
- You could have problems with employment.
- A conviction could lead to a revocation of a business or professional license.
- You may have difficulties finding housing.
- If you caused property damage or injuries through a violation of Texas gun laws, you open yourself to a civil lawsuit for monetary damages.
What to do About Gun Crimes Charges in Texas
Being arrested for any offense is overwhelming and confusing, which is why you should make it a priority to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Your lawyer will protect your rights throughout the criminal process and will work to establish a solid strategy for fighting the charges. Initially, your goal will be to expose weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, keeping in mind that the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Other potential defenses may include:
- Lack of knowledge or intent, where a defendant’s state of mind is an essential element of a weapons offense
- Self-defense, defense of property, or defense of others
- Evidence was illegally obtained in violation of your constitutional right against unlawful search and seizure
- Mistake or accident
Discuss Your Options with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Galveston, TX
This overview might be helpful in describing common Galveston gun crimes and rates, but you will need skilled legal counsel to assist if you are facing charges. To learn more about your rights and defense options, please contact Mark Diaz, Criminal Defense Attorney. Our team serves clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston in a wide range of criminal matters, including weapons charges. You can call (409) 515-6170 to set up a complimentary appointment with a Galveston criminal defense lawyer