Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Forbidden Words

Nearly a year after the Court's ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, the House and the Senate continue to debate the pending legislation (HB 78 / SB 160). There is agreement between the chambers on all the major points of the legislation, but the differences, while minor, are delaying agreement.

Both chambers of the General Assembly agree on the following:
  1. Both versions of the bill abrogate the Court's finding of April 26 2012 that pit bulls are inherently dangerous;
  2. Both versions of the bill essentially codify the common law standard of the one-bite rule that existed prior to the Court's April 26 2012 ruling;
  3. And both versions of the bill are breed neutral, a provision included at the insistence of the HSUS.
The House and the Senate bills differ only on the level of proof that a defendant is required to show in court. While the legislators have quibbled for the better part of a month over a preponderance of evidence as opposed to clear and convincing evidence, three children were killed by pit bulls in the month of March:
  1. Monica Renee Laminack. Bryan County, GA (March 27, -2 yo)
  2. Daxton Borchardt, Walworth County, WI (March 6, -1 yo)
  3. Ryan Maxwell, Galesburg, IL (March 2, 7 yo)
Among the numerous other attacks this month was the March 13th attack on 54-yo Linda Henry, who lost an ear, an eye, both arms, and her scalp (The Times-Picayune). Under either level of proof, preponderance or clear and convincing, the pit bulls involved in these deaths and maulings could conceivably be freed and the owners, landlords, and insurers could be free of liability, simply by proving their dogs had no prior history of aggression.

The legislative analysts and consultants and lawmakers who wrote the bill ignored the fact that pit bulls are subject to Idiopathic rage, the forbidden subject at the core of the Court's ruling. None of the pit bulls involved in these three deaths had previously shown signs of aggression; the majority of pit bull attacks are by pit bulls previously thought to be non-aggressive. Under HB 78 / SB 160 they would all be freed.

The legislators ought to have questioned the breed neutral provision, which implies that Yorkshire Terriers will be treated with the same severity as the pit bulls that killed Monica, Daxton, and Ryan. Breed neutral is not an inviolate moral principle. Breed neutral, when it comes to pit bulls, is a fatal naïveté.

The legislation is flawed at the core. The only right action for Maryland legislators would be to abandon the bill and allow the Court's April 26, 2012 ruling to stand.

* * * * *

This post is one of a series on the Maryland pit bull conundrum. To view the index of all Maryland posts click here.

In a recent 57 day period (Jan 8 through Mar 6, 2013) there were six fatal pit bull attacks, all of which were committed by family pit bulls. See Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

Statistics are from Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here.

Maryland House Votes
   (The Examiner, April 1, 2013)
House, Senate Still at Impasse
   (Baltimore Sun, March 27, 2013)
Pit Bull Owners Left in Limbo Over Liability
   (Washington Post Opinion, March 23, 2013)
Amendment may kill pit bull legislation in Maryland
   (WBAL TV 11, March 15, 2013)
House, Senate Far Apart On Legislation
   (Baltimore Sun, March 14, 2013)
Pit bull bill in Peril as Senate Hardens Position
   (Baltimore Sun, March 12, 2013)
Senate, House Considering Different Pit Bull Bills
   (WBAL 1090 AM, March 12, 2013)
Senate Dog-Bite Bill Different From House
   (CBS DC, March 12, 2013)
Dog bite victim's uncle talks about saving her
   (, March 11, 2013)
Pit bull bill compromise unravels
   (Baltimore Sun, March 8, 2013)
Court partly backs off pit bull ruling
   (Baltimore Sun, August 21, 2012)

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks