There's no constitutional right to own a pit bull, federal court says (2024)

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A federal court has upheld an Iowa city's ban on pit bulls and dogs that look like pit bulls. Since 2005, Council Bluffs has banned residents from owning "any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits" of one of those breeds. A group of dog owners sued, arguing that the ban violated their constitutional rights.

The dog owners argued that the ban violates their rights to substantive due process and equal protection and that it isn't rationally related to legitimate government interests. But a federal district court sided with Council Bluffs, and now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has as well. The court concluded that the city did have rational reasons for the ban, since the dog owners could "not negate every conceivable basis for the Ordinance."

This conclusion—while arguably sound from a legal standpoint—is still pretty unsatisfying from the standpoint of common sense.

Sure, the authorities have an interest in protecting people from dangerous animals. I don't think many folks would object to a rule banning city dwellers from owning a lion. But pit bulls are hardly lions.

Pit bulls and pit bull mixes are not a universally dangerous dog, as the plaintiffs in this case argued. From the decision:

They presented evidence from canine behavior experts and recent scientific studies about predicting a dog's propensity to bite based on its breed. According to the dog owners, this evidence, viewed most favorably to them, negates every conceivable basis for the Ordinance by establishing: "(1) Pit Bull type dogs are no more or less dangerous than other breeds of dogs; (2) neither breed nor physical characteristics are predictive of a dog's aggressiveness or propensity to bite; and (3) the city's method of identifying dogs as Pit Bulls is inherently unreliable."

As for dangerousness, the dog owners argue that experts in canine genetics and behavior currently acknowledge that pit bulls are no more or less dangerous than similarly sized dogs of other breeds.

The city countered that pit bulls made up a disproportionate amount of dog bites in year leading up to the ban—even though that may be explained by one or a few badly trained pit bulls, and needn't necessarily indict all pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

The city also offered the underwhelming statistic that dog bites were down 25 percent since the ban had been enacted. That still leaves a lot of dog bites by other breeds—and yet the city has not moved to ban other dog breeds.

As to the plaintiffs' claim that the city couldn't judge a dog's breed simply by its looks, the city countered with a study showing visual identification was accurate 15 percent of the time. That's another pretty underwhelming statistic—but the court found it sufficient, writing that "this study affirms that visual identifications can, however imperfectly, identify a dog's breed."


A new study purportedly shows the dangers of smoking marijuana—but there's a catch. Researchers found "higher rates of conditions including emphysema and airway inflammation among people who smoked marijuana than among nonsmokers and people who smoked only tobacco," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Nearly half of the 56 marijuana smokers whose chest scans were reviewed for the study had mucus plugging their airways, a condition that was less common among the other 90 participants who didn't smoke marijuana."

"There is a public perception that marijuana is safe and people think that it's safer than cigarettes," a radiologist who worked on the study told the paper. "This study raises concerns that might not be true."

But here's where things get iffy: 50 of the 56 marijuana smokers in the study were also tobacco smokers. So while the study is being touted as finding that marijuana is especially dangerous, it's impossible to disentangle the effects of smoking marijuana here from the effects of smoking tobacco. Even the finding of worse outcomes for marijuana and tobacco smokers compared to those who smoke only tobacco don't necessarily tell us anything about marijuana; they may just be the result of people smoking more overall.


Publisher merger is likely dead. After a federal judge blocked publisher Penguin Random House from buying rival publisher Simon & Schuster, the former planned to appeal the decision and keep fighting. But the point might be moot: Simon & Schuster parent company Paramount Global will allow the purchase agreement to expire this week, The New York Times reports.

"The collapse of the $2.175 billion sale is a major blow to Penguin Random House's ambitions to expand its enormous market share, and an enormously expensive one," notes the Times. "In addition to the significant legal cost of fighting the Justice Department in court, Penguin Random House will have to pay Paramount a termination fee of about $200 million once the deal falls through."

Instinctively, I didn't love the idea of this merger, since it at least seemed like bad news for authors overall. But regardless, the Justice Department's interference here is unjust, squandering millions (in private and government money) to interfere in market transactions, to the detriment of the publishing houses involved and possibly to all sorts of authors and agents too.

While many regarded the deal as bad news for authors, since it may limit the number of big publishers competing for books and lead to lower advances, Penguin Random House countered that the deal would have given a greater number of authors access to a major distributor and would have created efficiencies allowing the publishing house to pay writers more. That's also plausible. And if it turned out to be false, big publishers paying less large advances and being less attractive to authors could have been a boon for mid-size and smaller publishers. It could have led to more competition and a more open publishing industry overall. Ultimately, we just don't know—which shows the futility of letting the government pick winners and losers.


• Five people were killed and at least 18 others wounded in a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. The alleged shooter was taken into police custody after being subdued by night club patrons.

• Anti-abortion groups are suing to overturn the Food and Drug Administration's approval of abortion-inducing drugs.

• A good ruling for freedom of speech and academic freedom: Once again, a federal court has blocked Ron DeSantis' "Stop WOKE Act," which the court says would "prophylactically muzzle professors from expressing certain viewpoints."

Reason's Ron Bailey reports from the 2022 United Nations Climate Change conference.

• Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in prison.

• "Lawyers for an Indianapolis doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio told a judge Friday that Indiana's attorney general should not be allowed to access patient medical records for an investigation into undisclosed complaints," the Associated Press reports.

• The Kids Online Safety Act would amp up online surveillance while doing little to actually protect kids, writes Emma Camp.

• The latest tech job casualties: Carvana? "After cutting 2,500 jobs in May, the company has just announced an additional wave of layoffs which affects 8% of its workforce, or 1,500 employees," according to The Street.

• "In its decline, Facebook has become one of the most absurd, uncanny and therefore enjoyable places on the internet," writes Isabel Slone.

• A former anti-abortion leader says he was told the outcome* of the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in the Hobby Lobby case concerning the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate before the decision was announced.

• President Joe Biden is now 80 years old.

*CORRECTION: This post previously misstated the nature of the alleged Hobby Lobby leak.

There's no constitutional right to own a pit bull, federal court says (2024)
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