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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Broad BB gun ban looks likely in Dunedin



DUNEDIN -- A victory seems likely for wildlife activists, courtesy of commissioners who gave preliminary approval Thursday night to a new measure banning BB guns not just in city parks but on all public property.

If the ordinance is approved after a second public hearing and final vote May 3, violators could face hundreds of dollars in daily code enforcement or court fines.

The issue was raised this winter by residents who complained that a group of older teens used a pellet gun to kill two Muscovy ducks at Lake Paloma, potentially endangering homes and other wildlife in the western Dunedin neighborhood north of downtown.

Sheriff's deputies said their hands were tied because Muscovies are considered an unprotected nuisance species and no laws against firing air guns existed. (More details here.) The shooters had said they intended to eat the birds.

Dunedin's public safety committee recommended adding BB gun language to city codes. Saying they didn't want to outlaw target practice on private property, the group proposed the ban for city parks only.

In voting 5-0 Thursday to ban BB guns from public property, commissioners generally agreed that the weapons should be allowed on private property.

The proposal, though, met initial resistance from Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioner David Carson, who worried that regulating BB guns at all was an overreaction to an isolated incident.

Instead, Eggers wondered if they could outlaw hunting, which he said doesn't fit the city's character.

Echoing comments by Carson, who grew up in a hunting community, Eggers said: "For me it's not about the BB guns. It's about parents teaching their kids right and not shooting ducks."

Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski countered that she wants to be consistent with state firearms laws and prevent tragedy before it happens. She, Commissioner Julie Scales and Vice Mayor Ron Barnette supported expanding the BB gun ban beyond city parks to all public roads and right-of-ways.

"When it happens and someone gets hurt, it's going to be a problem and then people will say why didn't you have something on the books," she said.

The law would expand on one that already bars anyone other than a person in a city-supervised program, such as archery at summer camp, from firing a slingshot, bow, sling or "similar device" within city limits.

Noting that the November duck shootings actually involved a pellet gun, Bujalski asked why pellet guns weren't included in the proposed ordinance amendment.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office doesn't consider a pellet gun a firearm, but City Attorney Tom Trask said his extensive research didn't turn up any case law clarifying pellet guns' classification.

He said he erred on the side of caution and left out pellet guns to avoid conflict with a new state law that threatens county and city officials with fines and removal from office if they attempt to enforce local gun ordinances. He said seeking a Florida attorney general's opinion wouldn't help because it would involve similar research and simply include a nonbinding interpretation by another lawyer.

In an email Friday to the mayor and city clerk, Barbara Walker of the Clearwater Audubon Society asked the city to also consider including a ban on blow darts and dart guns, which she said were used early last week to shoot Muscovy ducks and common gallinules (a protected species) just 660 feet away from a bald eagle's nest at Virginia Street and Oakwood Drive.

She also recommended that the city follow Belleair Beach's recent ban on feeding wildlife, which she said attracts a nuisance and harbors ill will toward the animals.

"Unfortunately, I don't believe any of these shootings ...had anything to do with people hunting for food," Walker wrote. "When animals are shot in this fashion it is typically plain old cruelty."

Watch video and read documents from Thursday's Dunedin City Commission meeting here.

--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Monday, April 23, 2012 12:02pm]


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