April 27, 2009
We don't like the way your dog looks!
One of the reasons I was so disturbed by news reports about the "pit bull" (apparently a pit bull mix) that fatally mauled an 11-month old child is that the incident will most likely fuel another push for a pit bull ban (Breed Specific Legislation) in this area. That's because human beings have only a limited capacity to endure reading horror stories about mauled children, and if there are, say, a half a dozen such stories a year, if each story is widely circulated, then a cumulative effect is created, and the reaction tends to be along the lines of "how much more of this must we as a society endure?" The ugly fact is, these stories are very hard to read; it makes me sick to read about a child being mauled to death. Add to this the fact that in many instances there are gruesome pictures of little girls who survived "pit bull" attacks, pictures showing awful disfigurement, details of the years of plastic surgery which will be needed, and all of these pictures and stories will remain online forever, and little wonder that people say, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" Never mind that banning a breed will no more prevent child maulings than banning a type of gun will prevent its misuse.
And how do you ban a breed, anyway? It sounds easy, but for the sake of argument, exactly what would you ban? What is a breed? It would be easy enough to write a law prohibiting the possession of the following three breeds:
American Pit Bull TerrierAnd it would be easy enough to simply define them as any pure-bred, registered, pedigreed dog belonging to the above breeds. Obviously, a "breed" is not a species, but a dog bred and registered as a particular breed. So banning them is easy. Right?
Here's the problem with that: the people who own pure-bred, pedigreed, registered pit bulls -- and the pure-bred pedigreed dogs they own -- are for the most part not the ones causing the problems you read about in these articles. They are the responsible classes (the ones who do their paperwork properly) and of course it would be easy to take away their dogs and kill them. But it would not solve the problem of un-pedigreed, unregistered, and unregisterable dogs, which are only called "pit bulls" because they look enough like the pure-bred dogs that the people who own them can say they are, and when they breed them they can pass them off as "pit bulls" and get a few bucks. (Never mind that a pedigreed pit bull can easily cost over $1000.00; paperless "pit bulls" are commonly sold for $50.00 to $100.00, or even given away as canine junk.)
So obviously, if you're of a mind to ban "pit bulls," it would be ludicrously ineffective to stop with the pedigreed dogs.
Is anyone beginning to see the logical problem here?
That's right; from a serious canine breeding perspective, the "junk pit bulls" I just described are basically mutts. They cannot be shown in the ring, no serious breeder would breed them, they are of unknown lineage, and there's no guarantee they're even pit bulls.
So if you ban them, precisely what are you banning? That's right; pit bull lookalikes.
So, despite the fact that the pit bull ban rests on a genetic argument (if a highly questionable one), you would be banning dogs not based on genetics at all, but on an appearance. Fascinating.
The law would be banning all of the dogs pictured here, because they look like pit bulls. Opportuntities for mischief abound, because such a law invites arbitrary enforcement. (If a white guy wearing Brooks Brothers attire and a black guy wearing a T-shirt and sweat pants were each seen walking a Dogue De Bordeau, which one would be more likely to have his dog confiscated as a "pit bull"?)
Little wonder that courts have been striking some of these laws down. In Florida last month, a judge ruled the law was so vague as to be unenforceable:
A court ruled Miami-Dade's 20 year ban on pit bulls was too vague in defining "pit bull" and unfairly let animal control officers basically guess whether a dog is a pit bull. This lawsuit pertained to a dog named Apollo specifically, and opens the door to a broader lawsuit against the ban.Depending on the mood of the officer, a boxer could be declared a pit bull.
I would also argue that the law is unconstitutional for failing to spell out to a reasonable person exactly what conduct is prohibited. If I go out and adopt a puppy of unknown ancestry, how am I to know what it will look like when it grows up? If "looking like a pit bull" is against the law, then how am I supposed to know when and under what circumstances I am guilty?
Interestingly, if you were to breed a standard English bulldog with a Jack Russell Terrier, you'd have a litter of mutts. Yet it's more than likely that most of the litter would look so much like pit bulls that even breed experts would be hard pressed to tell the difference. So, would they be pit bulls? Not by any rational or normal standard. But under the law, they would.
If we analgize to drug prohibition, this isn't like laws banning drugs (which can spell out the chemical compounds to be prohibited). It would be like laws banning all substances which looked like marijuana (or look like heroin), without regard to whether they have dangerous or psychoactive properties.
But let's for the sake of argument suppose that all dogs which look like pit bulls are banned, and eventually hunted down and destroyed as they do in China. Does anyone think that the people whose dogs are causing the problem won't go out and find another breed -- like the Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, or Rhodesian Ridgeback (if the latter isn't already banned for looking "pitbullish")? What then? Simply declare all dogs which "look like" those breeds illegal, until eventually no one will be allowed to own any dog capable of defending his home.
I suspect a lot of people would think that would make for a much safer society.
("If we could save just one child....")
posted by Eric on 04.27.09 at 02:23 PM
Search the Site
Classics To Go
See more archives here
Old (Blogspot) archives
A knee sock jihad might be premature at this time
People Are Not Rational
No Biorobots For Japan
The Thorium Solution
Radiation Detector From A Digital Camera
This war of attrition is driving me bananas!
Attacking Christianity is one thing, but must they butcher geometry?
Are there trashy distinctions in freedom of expression?
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood