Why Pit Bulls Are More Dangerous and Breed-Specific Legislation is Justified — by Kory A. Nelson —
In April 2005, the latest litigation over breed-specific legislation (BSL) concluded in Denver, Colorado. The state Legislature had previously passed H.B. 04-1279, which prohibited local governments from regulating dangerous dogs by specific breeds.1 The City and County of Denver filed a civil action2 seeking a ruling that the State Constitution’s provisions for municipal home rule authority3 allowed Denver’s pit bull ban ordinance4 to supercede H.B. 04-1279. In late 2004, Denver District Court Judge Martin Egelhoff, ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, held that the regulation of dangerous dogs was a matter of purely local concern, and that, pursuant to the Colorado Constitution, Denver’s home rule authority superceded H.B. 04-1279.5 However, the court allowed the State’s affirmative defense6 to continue to trial, allowing the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to argue that the ordinance no longer had a rational relationship to its legitimate government interest in public safety, and asking the trial court to reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s 1991 ruling in Colorado Dog Fanciers, Inc. v. City and County of Denver.7 On April 7, 2005, Judge Egelhoff issued an oral ruling from the bench on the State’s affirmative defense, finding that the State failed to provide any new evidence to undermine the original findings in Colorado Dog Fan-ciers; that the city had provided new evidence to provide additional support for Judge Rothenberg’s findings; and upholding the ordinance as constitutional.8 This article will provide a review of the developments in the field of ethology—the study of animal behavior—in relation to pit bull dogs, review the 1990 factual findings of the trial court in Colorado Dog Fanciers, and outline the evidence relied on by the city in the most recent case.
Colorado Dog Fanciers
Between 1984 and 1989, pit bulls attacked and seriously injured more than 20 people in Colorado. The victims in-
cluded three-year-old Fernando Salazar, fatally mauled in 1986, and 58-yearold Reverend Wilber Billingsley, attacked by a pit bull in the alley behind his home.9 As a result, the local community called for increased regulations and bans on pit bulls.10 Accordingly, in 1989, the Denver City Council enacted an ordinance making it unlawful to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport, or sell any pit bull within the city.11 Several organizations and individual dog owners immediately filed suit challenging the ordinance as unconstitutional.12 The litigation concluded in 1991 with the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Colorado Dog Fanciers, upholding the trial court’s ruling that Denver’s ordinance was constitutional. 13 While the decision followed prior decisions by other state courts reviewing similar ordinances,14 the decision focused on procedural issues and glossed over the noteworthy and extensive factual findings made by the trial court as to the differences between pit bulls and other dogs, which provided a rational relationship between the differential treat-
ment of pit bulls and the legitimate interest of protecting public safety.
The justification is based on the clear evidence that, as a group, pit bulls, compared to other breeds, generally have a higher propensity to exhibit unique behavioral traits during an attack. • Strength. Pit bulls are extremely muscular and unusually strong for their size, generally stronger than many other dogs. • Manageability and temperament. While pit bulls are one of many aggressive types of dogs, their temperament varies in the same manner as other dogs and they can make gentle pets. Proper handling, including early socialization to humans, is very important. Even their most ardent admirers, however, agree that these dogs are not for everyone and they require special attention and discipline. The court...