Alton considers ordinance prohibiting discharge of firearms, concealed carry

ALTON — The city commission is mulling an ordinance that would prohibit the discharge of firearms within city limits and prohibits concealed handguns on city-owned premises that state law allows to be regulated.

The commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of the new ordinance during a city commission meeting on Tuesday that would outlaw the discharge or shooting of any gun, pistol, or other firearm within the city limits except when it’s done in defense of the home or person.

City Manager Jorge Arcaute explained to the commissioners that the main purpose of the ordinance was to prevent the discharge of firearms into the air that often occurs during the holidays.

Also exempt from the ordinance are city police officers and all county, state, and federal peace officers that are legally authorized to carry firearms while in the lawful discharge of their duties.

The city previously relied on state law regarding the discharge of firearms, Arcaute said, but felt an ordinance more tailored to the city was appropriate.

Alton is just the latest city in the Rio Grande Valley trying to crack down on celebratory gunfire.

In March 2017, Rio Grande City adopted an ordinance regulating the discharge of firearms within the city in an effort to curb such gunfire as well.

The ordinance imposed a fine not to exceed $500 per casing on residents who discharge their firearms into the air. However, it made exceptions for shooting ranges, exhibitions of charitable contests, and for peace officers. It also exempts use of firearms for protection and for hunting as long as both are in accordance with state law.

Discharging firearms in violation of Alton’s ordinance would be punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

The component of the ordinance dealing with concealed carry was almost an addendum to a previous ordinance passed in 2016 regarding open carry, said City Attorney Ricardo Gonzalez.

That ordinance, which was passed after the state allowed open carry throughout the state beginning January 2016, prohibited open carry in certain areas of city hall.

The new ordinance would similarly apply to concealed handguns, with Arcaute explaining that, in practical terms, it just meant the there would be more notices posted.

“The ordinance and the law are what they are, but we’re talking about posting some additional signs,” Arcaute said, noting that without a sign instructing otherwise, anyone could walk in with a concealed firearm. “And that’s something that we don’t think is proper especially because of the police department and because this serves as a courtroom.”

The city commission will have a second reading of the ordinance before it passes.

“Sometimes these laws don’t catch quite every circumstance,” he said. “So we want to be fully apprised before we actually set something.”