DUNEDIN — Officials hope their proposed ban of BB guns from city parks will prevent another incident like one this winter in which two Muscovy ducks were killed for food.
The new city 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.
Under the proposed BB gun ban, a violator caught firing one in a Dunedin park could be fined by Dunedin code enforcement, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office or the Pinellas County courts. The city code enforcement board can levy fines of up to $500 per day for repeat violators.
Commissioners are expected to take a preliminary vote on the ordinance after a public hearing at tonight's meeting. A second public hearing and final vote are tentatively scheduled for May 3.
"It could be a per-day dollar fine or a one-time citation fine," City Attorney Tom Trask said. "It all depends on how the city enforces it."
The proposal was prompted by residents who, fearing potential danger to surrounding homes and other neighborhood wildlife, complained to city officials in November that a group of young men in their late teens or early 20s used a BB gun to kill two Muscovy ducks at Lake Paloma.
Lake Paloma is a small neighborhood lake in western Dunedin, north of downtown. The men told responding Pinellas County sheriff's deputies that they intended to take the birds home and eat them.
In an email to city staff, Pinellas sheriff's Lt. Mike Leiner wrote that his department's "lengthy inquiry" determined no laws were broken because:
• The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission deems Muscovy ducks an invasive species and does not require permits to hunt them.
• The purpose and manner of the killings didn't meet the standard for a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge, which forbids the "unnecessary" mutilation or killing of animals in a "cruel or inhumane manner."
• The shooters were too old to be charged under Florida's BB gun law, which prohibits use by minors under 16.
• A city ordinance forbidding the injury or killing of birds only applies to "birds protected by the laws of the state."
Dunedin's public safety committee, a citizens advisory group, is recommending that commissioners add language specifically about BB guns to city code.
To avoid resistance from commissioners, the group is suggesting that the ban be applied only to city parks because "there was a concern that we didn't necessarily want to cite someone for shooting a BB gun at a target in their own back yard," Trask said.
Because a BB gun isn't considered a firearm, the city ordinance wouldn't 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.
This isn't the first time Muscovy ducks have ruffled feathers in Dunedin.
Over the years, large numbers of the birds have invaded neighborhoods, terrorizing residents who loathe their hissing and messy droppings and delighting others who call the red-faced fowls' waddling and pond splashing "cute."
A trapper told the Tampa Bay Times in 2010 that the ducks' meat is a delicacy in their native Latin America and can sell for as much as $50 a breast or $350 for a case of 10 hatchlings.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.