- BSL in the Big Picture
- No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
- Constitutional Rights
- Appearance Over Substance
- False Sense of Security
- What’s Right vs. What’s Popular
- Corollary vs. Causal
- Guilt Before Innocence
- Listen to expert advice
- Passing a Law Doesn’t Fix Anything
- Information and Misinformation
- Behind the Scenes
- Class and Race
- A Thousand Innocents are Punished
- Legislate Away Danger
- The Law of Unintended Consequences
- Sell the Law, Hide its Failure
- We Have Enough Real Problems, We Don’t Need Imaginary Ones
- Culture of Fear
- Cast a Wide Net
- Facts Before Conclusions
- Critical Thinking
- Poor Policies, Poor Leader
- Waste Valuable and Finite Resources
- Proactive vs. Reactive Leadership
BSL in the Big Picture
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is important far beyond just the animal community. It is important to look at BSL in the context of how it affects the dogs in our communities, but it is even more important to look at how it affects the people in our communities and how it reflects on the leaders who purport to support or oppose this kind of legislative action.
BSL is a very good litmus test for a community and its leaders. The human-canine relationship is complex, as are the many factors that contribute to dog attacks. Canine behavior is intricate and not understood by very many people. These simple statements are what connect BSL to the larger field of issues that challenge us. Most, if not all, problematic issues that permeate our society are abstruse in nature, they have many contributing variables and factors and are not easily confronted and resolved. Crime, discrimination and bigotry, and economic disparity are just some of the many important issues whose complexities demand more than just “snake oil” solutions.
A natural tendency is to simplify a problem so that it is easier to understand, and subsequently seemingly easier to fix. While this may make a problem easier to talk about and easier to put into a headline, it has a detrimental effect on solving said problem as the crux of the issue is lost amidst the inane conjecture. When our leaders address issues that affect people’s lives, they should proceed with the patience and thoroughness it takes to understand the many factors and variables involved, and how they may affect the issue in question and the people involved in various ways, both known and unknown. They must avoid falling into the “quick fix” legislative trap that is the easiest to sell to people who don’t have the time, desire or resources to learn about and understand the intricate complexities of various social, economic and public safety issues. Our leaders are there to lead and to have a positive impact on our community; they are not there merely to appear to do so.
These are all issues in the BSL debate and they all translate out to bigger and more important concerns:
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Some people see such policies as BSL as harmless at their worst. It is an issue that is not important to a lot of people and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t no harm done. However, nothing is free. Every action costs. When BSL is enacted it takes time and resources from somewhere. No policy is free and no law comes without a price tag. A leader must know that everything he or she does matters to someone, and every bit of time, money and energy expended on one thing cannot now be expended on another.
BSL is a good test of how a leader feels about the constitutional rights of citizens. How much should innocent people be affected by laws? Should special interest groups be able to take away your rights to advance their agenda? Is this person going to do what’s in the best interest of the community as a whole or is he going to cater to the wishes of a few? Perhaps most importantly do minority (small, not ethnic) groups deserve constitutional protection or can they be taken advantage of because they lack the numbers, money or mainstream exposure to fight back?
Appearance Over Substance
BSL has never been proven to be the most effective way to increase public safety in regards to dog bites and attacks. In fact, BSL has been proven to be largely ineffective and breed neutral ordinances have been shown to be a much better approach and much more fiscally responsible. But BSL does give the appearance of doing something and it looks good in the paper after people’s fears have been stoked.
False Sense of Security
People have a right to be safe in their communities. Government has a duty to act prudently in this regard. Safety is always important to people and it is easy to pass bad laws or laws with ulterior purposes under the guise of safety as long as it “appears” it will work toward its stated end. However, when poorly thought out laws are passed it can provide a “false sense of security” inhibiting further, more effective efforts at increasing public safety. Ultimately people are made less safe and protection for the public has decreased. Passing such laws are at best irresponsible and at worst negligent.
What’s Right vs. What’s Popular
Sometimes really facing an issue and trying to tackle it is very challenging. The intricacies of these endeavors can be difficult to understand and their effects can take time to be realized and, subsequently, they may be unpopular. Complex issues with complex solutions are not easy to write about in editorials with limited words and page space and don’t make for catchy headlines and are often not covered as much as simple, reactionary ideas. When we’re young, we are taught it is more important to do what is right than what is popular. No place is that lesson put to the test more than in the role of community leadership and politics.
Corollary vs. Causal
One of the most common errors when assessing a problem and its causes, is misunderstanding the difference between a corollary and a causal relationship. Just because two events happen concurrently or in succession, does not mean one causes the other. And just because there are common factors in a series of events does not mean that one is a condition or pre-condition for the other. If a pit bull attacks somebody, that does not mean it did so because it was a pit bull. If someone robs a store, they did not do so because they were one race or another. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to both events, but the appearance of the parties involved was not one of them. Understanding the difference between corollary and causal relationships is essential to someone who wants to be a wise leader and an effective problem solver.
Guilt Before Innocence
One of the key principles of BSL is that it presumes guilt, and puts the onus on those affected by the law to prove their innocence. Since we can’t pass laws for animals, it is the people who are affected that have to prove they should not fall under the auspices of a breed specific dangerous dog ordinance. In some cases the “guilty” have to go to extraordinary trouble and expense or risk the forfeit of their property which also happens to be a cherished member of the family. In other cases there is no choice at all. In many cases there is no system of appeal in place and if there is it is stacked against the appellant. Guilty until you prove yourself innocent at your expense doesn’t fly in many other, if any, areas.
Listen to expert advice
It is impossible for an elected official to know everything about every issue they are asked to address. A good leader can acknowledge this and listen to people who know more than they do. Would it be wise to build a nuclear reactor in a neighborhood without consulting a nuclear engineer? Obviously it wouldn’t, and as silly as that sounds, in many cases BSL is instituted without the counsel of canine behavior and public safety experts and almost 100% of the time it is done against their recommendations and without their support.
To support policies such as BSL is to be comfortable thinking with a mindset that says it is ok to judge an entire group based on the actions of a few. Be it the dogs or the owners, there is a great deal of bigoted underpinnings to this type of thought. It is even more worrisome when you transpose that mindset onto other social issues. If this leader can think in stereotypes on one issue, what is to stop them from doing the same on another?
Passing a Law Doesn’t Fix Anything
When an “impending catastrophe” is hyped up, the sole focus is usually on what laws need to be passed to fix or avert the disaster. After the glamour of the story is passed and people move on with their lives, little more is said of it unless something forces it back into the lime-light. People are left with the illusion that all you have to do is pass a law and everything is fixed. When in truth, passing a law is just the beginning. The law has to be well thought out to be effective, but it also has to get the money and resources it takes to enforce it and it must be high enough on the community’s list of priorities to receive the proper attention. Often when an issue is only temporarily important or a law is passed that is ill-conceived, underfunded or difficult to enforce, life goes back to normal and little real difference is made. Then the law is enforced only when it is convenient or when they need it, on a very selective (and very unconstitutional) basis.
Information and Misinformation
There is a multitude of information available on any given subject. Many times this information is less than truthful, particularly when projected through a biased party and filtered through a biased media. Pit bulls are no exception to this, in fact they are probably the poster children of misinformation. It is important for people in positions of power to be able to sift through the sea of ignorance, lies and agendas to be able to find the truth, even when it flies in the face of “conventional wisdom.”
Behind the Scenes
Parties such as individual citizens with personal vendettas, special interest groups, and personal injury lawyers all stand to profit and benefit from an unreasonable fear of dogs that fosters policies like BSL. It is in their best interest to distort and misrepresent the truth. Is this the kind of person our leaders are listening to when crafting policy? Is the profit and gain of the few weighing heavier than the rights and needs of the many?
Class and Race
BSL is a very good litmus test for a community and its leaders. The human-canine relationship is complex, as are the many factors that contribute to dog attacks. Canine behavior is intricate and not understood by very many people. These simple statements are what connect BSL to the larger field of issues that challenge us. Most, if not all, problematic issues that permeate our society are abstruse in nature, they have many contributing variables and factors and are not easily confronted and resolved. Crime, discrimination and bigotry, and economic disparity are just some of the many important issues whose complexities demand more than just "snake oil" solutions.
A Thousand Innocents are Punished
Our laws and justice system are set up around the core belief that a thousand guilty men should go free before one innocent man is put in jail. There are countless innocent people affected by BSL, and all to try to get at the very few people who actually deserve to be punished. When it comes to BSL, literally thousands of innocent people pay the price for every one guilty party who might be affected. It takes a great deal of malice or a great deal of ignorance and naivety for a community leader to get behind such a philosophy. Transposing this to the rest of the criminal justice system is terrifying at the very least.
Legislate Away Danger
Despite our best efforts, we can’t legislate our way to complete safety. Sometimes bad things just happen; we can’t prevent all accidents with even the best laws. Negligent, careless and malicious people exist in the face of current statutes. Passing more laws for people who don’t follow the laws that already exist will fail by definition. And we can’t pass laws to govern animals, not even dogs. Wise policy and due diligence is always important, but no matter what anyone says, they can’t protect you from everything all the time.
People are elected for various reasons. Some can make good on their promises and some can’t. Some have goals and a plan of action and some don’t. Some used to but don’t any more. When a leader has failed at his task, either through action or inaction, or if he wishes to establish or reclaim his relevance, a hot button issue or distraction can come in handy – a sort of political slight-of hand.
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Any law can have negative consequences that are unintended and unforeseen, even laws that are well thought out. Laws that are hastily and ill conceived from erroneous information are subject to this even more so.
Sell the Law, Hide its Failure
Often times a lot of sensation and hoopla precede and accompany the passage of BSL in a community. After the politicians get off their soap boxes and the media is done with random images of vicious dogs and “victims,” little more is ever said about the law. All of the negative impacts of the law such as its complete failure at achieving anything, increased expense, a drop in the level of public safety and an increase in the number of animals euthanized in the local shelter go unreported and unaccounted for by the laws proponents. This sort of bait-and-switch politics with no real accountability can have dire effects when jobs and lives are affected.
We Have Enough Real Problems, We Don’t Need Imaginary Ones
Serious dog bites are not common and have been declining in number for decades. Serious attacks are very rare and fatal attacks are such an anomaly you are more likely to get killed by lighting. Considering the number of people who face real problems like discrimination, poverty, abuse, health care and unemployment, it would be better for all involved if politicians stayed focused on those problems rather than creating imaginary problems like “the pit bull menace.”
Culture of Fear
The pit bull “issue” and BSL are the very essence of the “Culture of Fear.” There are few topics that make a better “boogie-man” and impetus for new laws. It is at its core a way to govern though fear, manipulation and reactionary policies all designed to create the illusion of control and response to a problem that is largely manufactured. People asking for their liberties to be taken from them while in a state of fear seems especially relevant today.
Cast a Wide Net
Often times, BSL is used as a tool against certain groups such as gangs or drug dealers. In a void of real action and effective leadership, communities pass this kind of law out of frustration with little regard for who else will be affected. Besides the obvious racist undertones, implicit in this sort of policy is an assumption that decent, law-abiding people would not own an affected dog, or if they do there is not enough of them, they are the wrong color, they are not important enough, or they are not rich enough for the injustice to really matter.
Facts Before Conclusions
An open mind in pursuit of the truth and a pragmatic solution is very important. Does this person form his/her opinions after the facts are revealed through earnest research and education, or is this the kind of leader who only wants to see facts and opinions that support the hasty conclusions they have already drawn? Does this person really want to know the truth or are they the kind of person who doesn’t let facts get in the way of their “beliefs?”
As with many other social and economic issues, there are many complicated factors in the problems at which BSL is aimed at addressing. The ability to use reasoned thought and verifiable logic when deciphering an effective course of action is paramount to the skills of a leader. As is the knowledge that the person is not susceptible to emotive and reactionary clamoring from special interests.
Poor Policies, Poor Leader
There are four kinds of people who advocate for poorly thought out, ineffective and discriminatory laws like BSL: Those who are not smart enough to understand the problem or its solutions and who is affected, those who don’t care enough to learn about the problem and solutions and who is affected, those who don’t want to learn about the problem and solutions and who is affected because of their personal agenda, and those who do understand the problem and solution and who is affected and for whatever ulterior motive, do it anyway. With some of the serious issues facing our communities, do any of these sound like qualities you want in a leader?
Waste Valuable and Finite Resources
Even in flush economic times our communities function on a limited budget. In dire economic times the budgets shrink concurrently with a rising strain on social safety net programs and law enforcement. BSL is wholly ineffective at its purpose and is a colossal waste of limited resources that should be allocated to much more important areas in our communities.
Proactive vs. Reactive Leadership
Sometimes in an effort to make up for a lack of foresight and effective proactive policy, leaders can resort to reactive “knee-jerk” and “quick fix” policy making. A good example of this is when BSL is proposed after an attack in a community. There should be good laws in place to protect a community and the best way to do that is with a cool, clear head. If something bad does happen whether by chance, lack of effective legislation or through inaction, hasty and emotive “mob” legislation is not the proper response. In fact some of these policies are enacted with such a lack of thought and haste of action they can do more harm than good via the Law of Unintended Consequences.