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Big Brass Ones

A half-hearted defense of Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL)

June 22nd 2006 1:40 pm
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First let me say that it is not my intent today to tweak, ridicule, or annoy anyone—I do, every once in a great while, do those things, I know, but today that’s not what’s going on. Some of my best friends here on Dogster are vehement opponents of BSL, and I respect their opinion. I just don’t entirely share it. And I hope they will not be too upset with me for saying so.

I am, myself, a fairly libertarian sort of dog who does not, in general, support legislation of any kind. Very few problems are not made worse by passing legislation, tends to be my view. So, in fact, I do not support BSL. But neither do I find the impulse behind it either evil or ludicrously misguided.

I’m going to try to make my argument by analogy, though I recognize full well that analogy never proves but only illustrates an argument. The reason I’m going to try to use an analogy is that I hope to take a little of the die-hard dog-lover emotion out of the discussion and frame my argument in terms with which you may be more sympathetic. Nobody here has no use for dogs, but I’m betting that lots of folks here have no use for guns. So let’s talk about guns.

I don’t know if you are a big fan of the Second Amendment or not. For the purposes of the present discussion, it really doesn’t matter. It’s there. And as long as it is, private citizens can keep and (in pretty narrowly defined circumstances) bear arms. Firearms.

Regardless of how you feel about the Second Amendment or about firearms, I’m pretty sure you will agree that there are a lot of real jerks out there with guns who we would all rather did not have guns. Possibly, you will even agree that it is those jerks, not firearms themselves, that are the problem. Or possibly not—again it really doesn’t matter.

So, let us suppose that your next-door neighbor is a jerk of the sort you’d really rather didn’t have a gun in the house. But he does. And there really isn’t much you can do about that.

Query: If you got to choose, would you rather your neighbor had a .22 target pistol or a .44 magnum?

You don’t want to get shot with either one, of course. And if your neighbor were neither a jerk nor an incompetent, it really wouldn’t matter—he could have an RPG and you wouldn’t need to worry about it if your were sure that he would never use it. But he’s a jerk, and he might. And, oh yeah, accidents can happen, too. Even to nice, responsible people.

So, which would you rather risk, a small-caliber hole that can very likely be repaired and fully recovered from? Or a very large, generally fatal hole? I think the answer is obvious.

So what has all that got to do with BSL?

If your neighbor owns a pit bull, and your neighbor is a responsible dog owner, it is unlikely that you will be bitten by your neighbor’s pit bull. But it could still happen.

If your neighbor owns a bird dog of some sort, and your neighbor is a responsible dog owner, it is unlikely that you will be bitten by your neighbor’s bird dog. But it could still happen.

If your neighbor is a jerk of the sort who thinks vicious dogs are cool, the odds of your being bitten by your neighbor’s dog go up very substantially. (And the odds of your neighbor’s dog being a pit bull rather than a bird dog go up substantially, too, of course.)

But whatever kind of neighbor you have, and whatever kind of dog he has, I guaran-damn-tee you that if you get bitten by a pit bull, it will be a much worse wound than if you get bitten by a bird dog. The pit bull’s jaws are much stronger, and all his terrier instincts are to bite down and hold on. The bird dog’s jaws are weaker, and his instincts are to avoid damaging what he’s got in his mouth.

When the biped was a fireman (a very long time ago), he had occasion to see what a pit bull, with a single bite, could do to a mailman’s leg (through the skin, through the fat, into the muscle, and then dragged along the guy’s leg for a couple of inches as he tried to remove his leg from the dog’s mouth).

The biped has also experienced what a frantic English setter in excruciating pain can produce in the way of a bite. It was no fun. The skin was almost but not quite broken, and there was a lot of swelling and bruising—you don’t want to get bitten by an English setter if you can avoid it.

But the comparison between the two bites is telling. Never mind whether a pit bull is more likely to bite somebody than an English setter is (I’m inclined to think he is, but I’ll admit I could be wrong about that). What is lead-pipe certain is that, if he does, he will inflict a more serious wound.

Which, at the very least, would seem to impose a higher standard of responsibility on pit bull owners than on English setter owners. If your neighbor is a thoroughly irresponsible English setter owner, his dog may crap on your lawn, annoy you with its barking, and even frighten your (easily frightened) children. If your neighbor is a thoroughly irresponsible bit bull owner, you have good reason to fear for your children’s lives.

Is it the pit bull’s fault that his owner is a jackass? Of course not. Any more than it is the .44 magnum’s fault that its owner is a career criminal. Is it the fault of responsible pit bull owners that some pit bull owners are irresponsible? Of course not. Any more than it is the fault of responsible gun owners that some gun owners are irresponsible.

But it is a fact of life that some people are irresponsible jerks, that some people will always be irresponsible jerks. You’ll never change that. But you may be sympathetic to the notion that their access to lethal weapons should be restricted. And somebody else—somebody who is not the dog lover you are—may be sympathetic to the notion that their access to potentially lethal dogs should be restricted. One position is no less reasonable than the other.


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