Police Reportedly Take Two Hunters Into Custody In Texas School Shooting

We have followed a long line of hunting accidents and buck fever cases which are becoming more and more common as housing areas expand into rural areas (here and here). Now in Edinburg, Texas, police have taken two hunters into custody on suspicion of firing the stray bullets that cut down two middle school students at Harwell Middle School.

The two students were trying out for the basketball team when they were hit by the bullets. One boy is in critical condition and another is in stable condition. One bullet lodged in an organ of a 14-year-old boy and another 13-year-old student have a serious but less threatening wound.

After the shooting, a police helicopter found one man nearby with a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle and then police found two other hunters on the nearby ranch toting .30-caliber rifles.

What I found most interesting is that there are two “hunting pastures” near to the school, which is in a heavily wooded area. The surrounding farms were being leased to deer hunters. Obviously, if responsible, these hunters should be held accountable. All states limit the firing of hunting rifles within a set distance from a dwelling or a school. However, I am most interested in the responsibility of the city and the school in allowing hunting to occur close of a school in a heavily wooded area. This strikes me as facially negligent and a lawsuit might serve a useful purpose to push schools and cities to be more proactive in protecting children. What is astonishing is that we constantly hear of absurd cases of zero tolerance for drug or play guns in school. Yet, here is a school that has children playing outside next to hunting pastures where hunters are firing high-powered rifles. The school could have sought to bar hunting or erect protective walls around the playground — or even insist on closing the school — rather than run the risk of such injuries to children.

A negligence case against the city or school will face some challenges. There is the proximate causation issues related to hunters who allegedly violated criminal and regulatory rules in firing toward the school. However, the negligence is based on the need to anticipate such wild shots. In Texas, someone convicted of any sexual crimes cannot live within a significant distance from a school but hunters are apparently shoot at deer around its perimeter. Clearly someone had to hear shots in the hunting areas before this tragedy if these areas have been used for hunting previously. The most direct liability falls on the hunters for negligence. However, while I assumed that these shots violate state law (and thus could constitute negligence per se), I have had a difficult time finding the specific rules often found in states limiting hunting near homes and schools. Indeed, what is interesting is the relative lack of state limitations stated with regard to hunting near school in the state regulations. Indeed, the rules refer to county rules but I could not find any specific hunting rules in Hidalgo County, Texas.

Source: Brownsville Herald as first seen on Reddit.

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33 thoughts on “Police Reportedly Take Two Hunters Into Custody In Texas School Shooting”

  1. .223 or 30.06 would go straight through a cinder block wall. they would need an earthen berm.

  2. Texas school may build safety wall after shooting
    by Associated Press

    EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — School officials say they are considering erecting a cinder-block wall to block hunters’ bullets after two students at a Texas middle school were shot while trying out for the school basketball team.

    The students were in stable condition Tuesday, but officials still don’t know who fired the shots.

    Superintendent Rene Gutierrez says officials hadn’t realized there was hunting going on so close to Harwell Middle School, which just opened this year.

    Homes line the road approaching the school, but ranchland stretches out to the west and the north.

    Gutierrez says a wall on the school’s west and north sides might be the most immediate solution with no law prohibiting hunting on private land near schools and high-powered rifles firing ammunition that can go a mile or more.

  3. Oro Lee
    1, December 13, 2011 at 9:56 am
    What of the landowner’s liability, if any?
    Many states have laws that shield land owners from liability in order to encourage them to open their land to recreation. These are often specifically driven by the interests of hunters and fishing. If I understand correctly, the Illinois version essentially says that as long as you don’t charge any money in exchange for permission to “recreate” on your land, you’re shielded if these users get hurt.


    (I still haven’t heard the low down on what happened, but in 2005, the act was renewed and/or changed so that only hunting was covered. This screwed a bunch of user groups like horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing, as these activities were no longer included. And, yes, there are a few rocks worth climbing in Illinois…)

    In the Prof’s write-up, it is mentioned that the land was leased to hunters, so that may make a difference regarding the land owners’ liability.

    Also, this is Texas, so who freakin’ knows.

  4. Elaine, it may be different in other places, but as for schools having ability to make land use decisions for their neighbors, not really, with one exception. No registered sex offenders within a designated distance from a school or playground.

  5. First – bullets can easily travel more than a mile & still kill so it is entirely possible that these shots were accidental. Stupid people do not think about the background when they shoot but it is critical.

    Second – .223? for deer!?! That person is either a moron or did intend to shoot someone. That round does way too much damage to meat, its good for killing people or blowing the hell out of small fuzzy things for fun but not for food.

    Third – I held my NRA membership into the mid-70’s because of that insurance policy, a million dollar life insurance if you die in a hunting accident. But their politics became so repugnant I quit them in spite of it. Their two goals today is to sell more guns & to elect Republicans.

  6. I’m wondering how the school might bear some responsibility for the shootings. Do public schools have any power in making decisions about how public or private property in a school area can be used?

  7. Mike, regarding insurance. If the hunter is a member of the NRA, they have liability coverage through their membership. I am not sure what it is now, but it used to be up to a million dollars.

    I dunno what the insurance rules might be if, as Nal said, they were out hunting with their old buddy John Barleycorn.

  8. I am all for people hunting…If that is what they want to do….I think in this case the totality of the situation needs to be taken into account…The School came to be…why…it was needed…They placed it outside of town…Edinburg is rural, rural South Texas….According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 37.4 square miles….Population as of the census[1] of 2000, there were 48,465 people, 14,183 households, and 11,417 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,296.9 people per square mile (500.7/km²). There were 16,031 housing units at an average density of 429.0 per square mile….

    It appears to me that….the School should have taken some thought before placing it where it did…I am not saying that the hunters do not bare some responsibility….but this is one of those cases that is going to turn on the facts…..and it will tend to favor the land owner….Not a wish just reality…

  9. I am amazed that hunting would be allowed anywhere near a school. The officials at the city and county and the State have a lot to answer for. It is very telling that Prof. Turley could not even find any hunting rules in that Texas county. Sad.

  10. I’m not convinced that these were “stray” bullets. To hit two kids is not in any way a random event. The shots were intentional. To mistake two kids for deer leads me to suspect impaired perception, the kind of impairment associated with alcohol.

  11. Mike Spindel wrote:

    What occurs to me is that given there are a number of cases each year of accidental shootings in hunting, shouldn’t there be some kind of liability insurance available…

    I submit that’s an after-the-fact molification, not a solution. How long will we condone any of this? You can’t stop these incidents without getting rid of the guns permanently. Thus far we seem to have accepted these as happening in the normal course of things. We have an amazing tolerance for the death and destruction caused by guns. We keep hearing from gun enthusiasts that this is the odd case, but as Mike noted it’s far too prevelant to be ignored. How many rare cases of dead and injured people will it take?

  12. Reminds me of a story in Senator Reid’s book about himself and about his home state of Nevada.

    There is a law that a brothel (legal in Nevada) can not be within a certain distance from a school.

    A well-liked brothel was discovered to be in violation of that law.

    So they moved the school.

  13. What occurs to me is that given there are a number of cases each year of accidental shootings in hunting, shouldn’t there be some kind of liability insurance available and the requirement of proof of said insurance, to get a hunting license? I know the NRA would go ballistic on this, but it seems a reasonable requirement, given that one of these kids might have innocently sustained a lifelong medical problem. Since we have no national health insurance any judgment against a hunter would be only as good as his ability to pay.

  14. I remember when i was 19 yrs old my friend who lived in a
    very rural place was a hunter.He told me that one could put a penny on the end of a rifle and if one watched one could see the bullet exit the rifle.This city boy,me,got behind a big tree to watch this action.The penny shattered and a piece hit the young man just below his eye and the blood flowed and my friend screamed.His Dad came a running and said you shot my boy?It took me 5 minutes to explain what happened.For years when i had business in that rural area people remember me and it helped my business.

  15. Interesting case. I’m betting some new law, either in the form of case law or new legislation, will come from this. I’m all for the right to bear arms and hunting if that’s your thing, but then again, I’m also all for gun safety. The child with the organ injury is likely looking at lifelong health problems from this incident.

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