DUNEDIN — Ducks will be able to breathe easier since commissioners Thursday night gave preliminary approval 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 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. 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.
Noting that the November duck shootings actually involved a pellet gun, Bujalski asked why pellet guns weren't included in the ordinance.
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 (recent) 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."
In other action
On a 4-1 vote, commissioners chose a new city logo, which officials will immediately start incorporating into the design of the city's new website.
The image, created by Wilesmith Advertising and Design of West Palm Beach, strives to represent the city's fun and diverse nature by spelling "DUNEDIN" in blue, orange, red and green capital letters. The "E," formed by three wavy blue lines, represents flowing water and helps outsiders pronounce the city's name. Despite hesitation from at least one commissioner, the logo will retain the tagline "Home of Honeymoon Island," an asset the ad agency said will resonate with tourists.
Meanwhile, Wilesmith, at commissioners' request, will continue working with a citizen branding committee on a catchier secondary tagline than "Life flows your way." Eggers called the proposed secondary tagline confusing, and Bujalski said she wants something more "hip."
City leaders and local merchants last year embarked on the $73,150 branding campaign in hopes of attracting tourists and new businesses. Commissioner David Carson cast the lone vote last year against the campaign and voted "no" again Thursday. He said the city hired marketing experts, so it should follow their advice that a different logo rejected this year is better.
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.