All Commentary
Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Why Matt Walsh Is Wrong to Call for a Pit Bull Ban

According to Matt Walsh, the case for banning pit bulls is “bulletproof.” In reality, it has a lot of holes.

Image Credit: Lilla Kalocsai - Pixabay

Political commentators have yet to learn economics. This is evident by the repeated economic illiteracy peddled by conservative and progressive commentators alike. Matt Walsh’s call to ban pit bulls is no exception.

In a recent post on X, Walsh states, “Yes pit bulls maul and kill people at a vastly disproportionate rate. Yes they are genetically predisposed towards aggression. Yes when you have a pit bull you are unfairly forcing all of your neighbors to assume the risk. Yes the argument for banning them is absolutely bullet proof and there is literally no reason why anyone needs to have this kind of dog. But I saw a picture once of a pit bull cutely snuggled up in a blanket so all of these arguments are automatically debunked.”

Ironically, Walsh does what he accuses pit bull-defenders of doing: pointing out some troubling observations and basing policy off of it. This is not the first time he has made this mistake. Back in January of 2023, Walsh called for banning pit bulls in response to a pit bull killing a 7-year old girl. To his credit, he is correct in stating that pit bulls disproportionately kill and maim more relative to other dog breeds; however, it does not necessarily follow that they should be banned.

According to Walsh, “there is no sane argument” against banning pit bulls. Again, in his most recent pronouncement, he stated “the argument for banning them is absolutely bullet proof and there is literally no reason why anyone needs to have this kind of dog.” But is this true? Is the argument absolutely bulletproof? Not quite; in fact, a number of objections can be raised to Walsh’s fallacious arguments.

Imposing Risk on Neighbors?

Walsh alleges that pit bulls “unfairly” force neighbors to assume risk. This is puzzling. Doing something on your own property that carries a risk is not a trespass. In fact, we do many things that carry risks for others in our own homes, such as operating gas powered ovens (the banning of which Matt Walsh curiously opposes despite the injuries, deaths, and damage connected to gas leaks/explosions). Owning a gun also carries a risk that it might be discovered and used by a child or stolen by a home invader and used in a heinous crime, yet we do not advocate for banning guns either.

Risk alone is not grounds for intervention. Plenty of people die in car crashes that they bear no responsibility for, yet we do not ban cars. Driving imposes a risk on other travelers, yet the imposition of the risk is not seen as unfair.

So, what makes an activity unfair? What does it mean to “unfairly forc[e] all of your neighbors to assume” risk? Walsh leaves the definition of fairness ambiguous. A libertarian response would be that the only grounds for intervention in another’s affairs is if that person violates private property. There is no fairness standard, only justice, which is defined by non-aggression against person or property.

Justice should be the only criterion by which a law is judged, and given that owning a pit bull does not violate private property, it cannot be unjust. Walsh’s call for banning pit bulls can be likened to a child calling something he/she dislikes “unfair.” You may call it unfair, but in the end, all you really mean is that you do not like it. This amounts to preference, which is ultimately arbitrary, and can be rejected arbitrarily. What’s asserted with no evidence can also be rejected without evidence.

Of course, actions that violate private property can result from owning a pit bull, such as dog attacks. If that happens, then the victim or the victim’s representatives should be free to bring a lawsuit against the owner of the pit bull.

Maybe I Want a Dangerous Dog!

Using dogs as a means of deterrence or self-defense is nothing new. Taking a walk around any neighborhood will yield at least one house that has a sign stating “Beware of Dog.” Maybe the house is fenced off and the dog is lying in wait. A would-be criminal would definitely be deterred if the dog waiting behind the fence were a pit bull, a dog renowned for its strength and allegedly violent nature. If I am away from home, I want a dog that will defend my property from trespassers. A pit bull would be one of the most capable of doing so.

Yes, some people get bit or, sadly, even killed by pit bulls. But the risk of that happening does not necessitate that people opt for a lower-quality guard dog. To prohibit seekers of guard dogs from buying pit bulls arbitrarily places the welfare of some unknown pit bull victim above the welfare of those who want to defend their property. This preference is based on nothing but a snapshot judgment about pit bulls as pointlessly dangerous pets that should be regulated or banned. Matt Walsh’s proposal, which he claims is bullet proof, leaves out the possibility that some people own pit bulls precisely for their violent nature.

What Will People Alternate Into?

If pit bulls are banned, people may choose an alternative breed that demonstrates similar characteristics to the pit bull, or they might begin breeding a dog that approximates the strength and ferocity of the pit bull. The result? Another breed becomes the new pit bull or a new violent breed is created altogether.

Furthermore, what will happen to the pit bulls already owned? As a result of bans, pit bulls may be abandoned, leading to an increased population of stray pit bulls, possibly increasing bites and deaths of unsuspecting people walking around outside, at least temporarily. This is hardly preferable to pit bulls remaining in the homes of people that voluntarily assume the risk of living with these allegedly dangerous animals.

Pit Bull Attacks Do Not Justify Bans

Ultimately, as unfortunate as bites and deaths are, they do not justify bans. Owning a pit bull does not necessarily violate private property, so there is no legitimate reason to pass a blanket ban on pit bulls.

Instead, people should be allowed to kill, without legal obstacle, pit bulls that trespass on property and/or attack. Essentially, when pit bulls act aggressively, the law should not protect them. Furthermore, when a pit bull does attack or kill, the victim or the family of the victim should be able to extract compensation from the pit bull’s owner. Since we live in an imperfect world, there will be people bitten and killed by pit bulls, but there are no other appropriate responses that are consistent with justice.

So, no, Matt Walsh, the argument against owning pit bulls is not bulletproof.

  • Benjamin Seevers is a Mises Institute Fellow and holds a BA in economics from Grove City College. He will begin his PhD in economics at West Virginia University in fall 2023. His research interests include private governance, public policy, and libertarian ethics.