House bill defines pit bull as "dangerous dog" - - Jackson, MS

House bill defines pit bull as "dangerous dog"

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - In the wake of several dog attacks in Mississippi, many of them from pit bulls, comes a 24-page bill, dubbed the Mississippi Regulation of Dangerous Dogs Act.

Those pages are drawing serious criticism, and some believe that legislation violates the U.S. Constitution.

Pit bull owner Don Tullos believes that.

“As you can see right here with Colt, they're not all the same," Tullos said.

Colt is Tullos' three-year-old pit bull, a shy dog who eventually warmed up to his new visitors.

“He came to us when he was about a year old, and he was petrified of people. He would literally tuck his tail and run. Now he comes,well, you saw," Tullos said. "He lets you pet him, love on him.”

Tullos said his dog is proof that people can't label a breed as inherently dangerous.

House Bill 1261 says otherwise.

It defines a dangerous dog as any pit bull dog, including American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog and any other purebred or mixed-breed dog that's a combination of those.

The bill goes on to say that the title of “dangerous dog” can apply to any breed that shows certain characteristics, like a propensity to attempt an unprovoked attack.

“It's a violation of our rights," Tullos said. "We should have the right to own whatever animal we want to own.”

The bill doesn't ban people from owning dangerous dogs in Mississippi, but it does enforce strict standards for keeping the canines, imposing fines and jail time.

Another section gives law enforcement much more power than they would typically have to enforce those regulations.

It says in part, “A law enforcement officer, at any time, may enter the premises where a dangerous dog is kept, or is believed to be kept, for an on-site inspection of the premises.”

Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey says that means it's a warrantless search.

“Mississippi isn't free to write statutes that violate the Fourth Amendment," Steffey said. "The Fourth Amendment preferences for a while were a warrant-absent exigent circumstances, and I don't think the mere fact I own a dog is constitutionally [demanding] circumstances.”

At the same time, many say something has to be done.

The Magnolia State has seen several dog attacks and maulings last year, with most of them being from pit bulls.

“They don't know the dog, but they immediately become afraid of the dog, because of what they're being told," Tullos said. "Go find someone. Find someone like myself with Colt, and just meet the dog.”

WLBT has unable to get any comment on the legislation from the bill's authors or sponsors.

Steffey said the final bill, if it passes, will likely look very different than the version currently being scrutinized.

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