Is a Pit Bull a Semi-Automatic?

David Gerrold posted this image to his wall on Facebook. Now, while I am sympathetic to people who love their pets almost more than they love their children, the fact is that Pit Bulls are not a breed. The fact is that Pit Bulls, the square-headed, short-legged, bulky dogs that people think of when they think Pit Bull, were bred to fight other dogs. That is what the name Pit Bull means. Animal fights traditionally occured in a pit, and the square-headed fighting dogs were variants of the full-sized bulldog, a dog that was bred specifically for the sport of Bull-baiting. These dogs were bred to be violent, and the Pit Bull variant was bred specifically to attack other dogs. I have lost a dog to a Pit Bull attack, myself (I go into this in the article Rescues. Editor) so I can speak first-hand about the violence of dogs bred to attack other dogs. These are not the musings of someone who is just afraid of dogs. Some dogs breeds are quite violent, and you should be wary of strange dogs and understand the individual behavior and pack behavior of dogs if you want to avoid becoming a dog-bite statistic. My original comment went something like this,

More pit bulls are involved in human deaths than any other breed. (Along with Rottweilers, they make up 67% of dog bite deaths.) Pits are involved in 92% of the reports of dogs killed by dogs and 96% of cats killed by dogs. More pit bulls end up in shelters than any other breed. I’ve known many happy pit owners, but owning a pit requires responsibility and intelligence, as would owning a car or gun. Statistically, many owners just aren’t up to the task of owning and controlling a Pit Bull.

Another commenter on that image then responded with a dog is a dog, what part of this don’t you understand here? This misunderstanding allows me to draw some allusions to the gun argument, and perhaps shed some light on both subjects. This is another one of those instances of miscategorization that seem to automatically get me started. I’m off and running before I’m even sure what I’m talking about.

A dog is not a dog in the same way that all guns are not semi-automatics. To say it another way, a Pit Bull is not a Shepherd is not a Terrier in exactly the same way that a repeater is not a revolver and is not a semi-automatic weapon. Let me draw a third comparison so I know this illustration will be crystal clear. A hammer is not a claw hammer at the same time as all claw hammers are hammers. Groups and subgroups. Dogs are tools created for purposes in the same way that guns are tools created for their purposes. Owning a tool that you don’t understand how to use and don’t know the use it was created for leaves you open to errors that stem from the purpose of the tool’s creation.

Breeds of dogs were created for specific purposes. Terriers were created to hunt down rodents hiding in stonework. Terriers bite more frequently than any other breed of dog, ask anyone who has groomed dogs. Stats show Chihuahuas bite the most. They are snappy little things, personal experience confirms this fact, but Terriers bite hard and they bite repeatedly. Shepherds were bred to herd sheep and other farm animals. They have specific natural tendencies and require different kinds of care than Terriers and other small dogs do. Retrievers were bred for bringing game back to a hunter while out on a hunt. Rottweilers and Huskies were bred to pull sledges and to act as guard dogs.

Pit Bulls, like full-sized Bulldogs, were bred for animal fighting. I don’t need to go over that again. I could, but I won’t. Each of these breeds requires understanding of the breeds tendencies, the health problems of each specific breed, if you are going to be a responsible pet owner. Pretending that a dog that was bred to bite is more gentle than a dog that was bred to retrieve game without biting it is to deny the baseline nature of each dog breed.

All dogs can be violent.

Dogs are descended from wolves, and there are common traits that all dogs share with wolves. As pack hunters they defend their pack from other packs, exhibiting very strong ingroup/outgroup discrimination; in other words, if you never let your pet out to play with other dogs and meet other people, your pet will respond aggressively to others until it learns what order the new group structure represents. The ingroup is to be cared for even to the destruction of the individual itself, making them doting with children and fierce when threatened by strangers. These ingroup tendencies endear dogs to their owners, which is probably why dogs are the favored pet in most households.

But the general tendencies of the species can masque other traits that the specific breeds were bred for in the past, that might come to the surface in any descendant individual animal. So Pit Bulls that were bred exclusively for fighting can be more dangerous than other dog breeds whose jobs were less focused on the need to guard or attack and more on herding/caring.

A complex biological tool can be like that. Traits that had been designed in can disappear and then resurface later. A purpose-built simple tool, like a firearm, can’t do this. Single-shot pistols and muskets gave way to cartridge-loads fed by mechanical action and springs (repeaters) or mechanical action alone (revolvers) which gave way to the gas-powered semi-automatic and the fully automatic weapons of today. A musket is not a semi-automatic weapon. Aside from the basic design, killing with a chemically propelled metallic slug directed through a hardened steel barrel, the tools have virtually nothing else in common.

Today we own dogs as pets, and we choose those pets based on their appeal to us, visually and behaviorally. The purposes that the various breeds were created for are not what we own dogs as pets for now. There are some people who want a stocky, threatening dog because they want to train it to be dangerous. They want the dog(s) to be dangerous to other dogs and dangerous to other people. There are people who cherish the soft-side of their visually threatening dog and they train their dogs to be things other than what they visually appear. This is also true of weaponry. We generally buy a weapon for how it looks, and how it looks can determine how it is treated by law.

Both the laws against Pit Bulls and the laws against assault weapons are misguided, and for the same reason. They are misguided because the characteristics of their design, the nature of what they individually were made for, are not accurately reflected in the way they look. A Pit Bull is no more dangerous than the training that the dog owner has given it, no matter what it looks like.

The wooden stock and grips on a semi-automatic weapon do not alter the underlying technology that allows it to throw large amounts of lead downrange in a very short order. Ask any expert on weaponry, and they will confirm this fact for you. A semi-automatic weapon is a semi-automatic weapon, no matter what it looks like.

But a Pit Bull is not always a dangerous weapon, ask any Pit Bull owner. It, like almost any other full-sized breed, can be trained to be dangerous by the people who own it. The problem with that breed and other dangerous looking breeds arises when the owners want a dangerous looking dog because they want a dangerous dog, and then make the dog dangerous with training. This is where a simple weapon, like a firearm, is not like a biological weapon, a trained attack dog. Guns don’t think, at least not yet, but dogs do think and they can do things their owners don’t expect no matter how well the owner thinks they’ve trained their dog. The key here is not to make a living weapon out of your dog. I would not let my child play around a dog I had trained to kill. That is simply irresponsible parenting.

So you can have a Pit Bull that isn’t a killer, but your semi-automatic weapon is always going to be a killing machine. Pit Bulls are not semi-automatics, anymore than other wolf-descended canines can be deceptively harmless around pack mates. However, your Hello Kitty assault rifle will always be a killing machine. Like the hammer, a firearm is a purpose-built tool. A hammer drives in nails. A claw hammer drives them in and then can pull them back out again. If only we could recall the bullets from all the semi-automatic weapons fire we’ve seen over the past few years.

This article was inspired by a comment to one of David Gerrold’s Facebook posts. A comment he has since deleted. It’s probably also the reason he unfriended me and why I can no longer comment on his posts. Them’s the breaks sometimes.

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