John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Also, a Canadian city goes after bullies and a Chicago alderman takes the war on pigeons to a new level.
Welcome back to our weekly look at what's been outlawed in cities across the world (past editions here):
ASSAULT WEAPONS (MAYBE), IN WASHINGTON STATE
Seattle has become one of the first American cities to respond to the Newtown massacre with a lobbying effort to outlaw assault weapons. On Monday, the city council made plans to present the 2013 state legislature with proposals to reduce gun deaths, including banning assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, requiring background checks at gun shows, and microstamping firearms so police can better track spent ammunition. Mayor Mike McGinn predicted that gun-control opponents will "just try to ride out" such reforms, reported the Seattle Times. “It is the duty of the people and of elected officials to keep the pressure on,” he said, “because that is what will happen if we do not take this as the call to action that it should be.”
This wouldn't be Seattle's first tango with gun legislation. Former Mayor Greg Nickels attempted to ban high-powered weapons in community centers and parks; however, a judge ruled that Seattle couldn't have a gun-control bill that was stricter than Washington State's. The city council has also tried lobbying state lawmakers for stronger controls every year since 2008, a tactic that has produced diddly-squat in results.
Seattle has the support of fellow cities this time around, though. On Tuesday, Philadelphia's Michael Nutter, New York's Michael Bloomberg, L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa and other U.S. mayors sent an open letter to Congress and President Obama asking for tighter gun laws, along with a "reversal of the culture of violence in this country, a commission to examine violence in the nation, and more adequate funding for the mental health system." In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel is also asking for a city, state and national assault-weapons prohibition, saying, "I would hope the leadership in Congress now will have a vote of conscience. It is time to have that vote."
BULLYING, IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
Following the October suicide of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd, who described on YouTube being bullied so much that she once drank bleach, her hometown council is pondering passing legislation that would make bullying a crime. City staffers are researching the feasibility of such a law, which would either fine bullies or put them through some kind of sensitivity training, and hope to formally debate the issue in 2013.
Edmonton, Regina and other Canadian burgs already have such laws on the books. If passed, Port Coquitlam's would be British Columbia's first. Said one of the measure's supporters, Gary Mauris of the "I Am Someone" campaign: "In the last 12 months, four teenagers in this community have committed suicide. If you look at the youth, they are being robbed of their self-esteem."
FEEDING PIGEONS, IN ILLINOIS
A Chicago alderman who's very peeved about pigeon poop is pushing legislation to outlaw the feeding of the ubiquitous birds. James Cappleman has been on the warpath about flapping sky-rats befouling transit stations with splatters of excrement since at least May, which is when he was allegedly attacked by a “pigeon lady" scattering bread crumbs for her winged groupies. Cappleman's proposed ordinance, which goes up for approval in February, would smack pigeon enablers with a fine as large as $1,000 and possibly up to six months in jail.
However, blogging lawyer Jonathan Turley has identified a few issues with the law as well as Cappleman himself, who he calls the "poster boy for the criminalization movement." The municipal code already penalizes pigeon feeders with fines of up to $500, for instance. Does that penalty really need to be doubled? Turley also wonders how the city will prove that somebody throwing around stale bread specifically means to fatten pigeons. "I am not sure how the city will confirm that the intent is to feed a member of the Family Columbidae as opposed to a different bird family."