Friday, April 11, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Pit bulls lose another one

We take any incursion upon our civil liberties very seriously, so we do not consider the legal dispute over the ban of pit bull terriers in Jacksonville, Sherwood, Lonoke and Beebe to be a joking matter.

Nevertheless, we think Judge Leon Holmes got it right this week when he declined to stop the cities from enforcing the municipal rules until he actually tries a lawsuit challenging the city laws, probably this fall. We expect the same outcome at the trial.

An organization representing dog owners and four pet owners challenged the bans in federal court and claim that Jacksonville and the other cities violated the Fifth Amendment, the 14th Amendment and the commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution when they adopted ordinances banning pit bull terriers, a particularly aggressive pet whose attacks have caused injuries and deaths.

The lawsuit raises intriguing issues. Does a ban against one kind of pet violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against depriving a person of his property without due process or the 14th Amendment, which says that government’s laws must apply equally to everyone? For good measure, the plaintiffs threw in the commerce clause, which prevents states and localities from interfering with interstate commerce – i.e., the acquisition of animals from other states.

Some would say that protecting the ownership rights of pit-bull owners carries the tension between public safety and personal freedom – an abiding national concern nowadays – to a ridiculous extreme, but the litigation of extremes forms the bedrock of our common law.

Precedents for such municipal public safety laws, however, are ample and ancient.

When we agree to live in close proximity in a self-governing community, we surrender a few property rights: among others, what we can do with our garbage, how we maintain our property, how much noise we can make, the farm animals that we can raise. So we yield small personal preferences to the safety and peace of mind of neighbors and children.

Pit bulls, we understand, are by and large fine pets and superb sentinels, but they deserve the liberty of the countryside and we the safety of their absence.