Can an animal cruelty registry prevent mass shootings?

By on March 17, 2018

Advocates for more and common sense gun legislation posit that making it harder for people with a history of violence or mental illness to get a firearm will decrease gun violence. It’s likely true. What we know is true is that many people who have committed these seemingly ubiquitous mass shootings didn’t begin being violent towards humans- they were violent towards animals first.

Animal advocates are sneaking into the gun conversation with the knowledge that before the violence towards humans there was violence against animals. They’re using the logic that if we were to create a registry (like the sex offender registry) that named animal abusers we’d be more aware of the people who are likely to commit more violence against humans. It is logical- if mass murderers of people first murder animals in many cases, identifying the animal abusers would then identify those with the potential for the violence we see on the news each night.

If it is this simple, why don’t we have an animal abuse registry? And don’t we already have a registry?

Databases that police use include criminal histories, but not all include animal abuse statistics. There’s no real registry, per se. The abuser registry would be helpful to police in that they’d know a complete criminal history that includes animal abuse.

Shelters keep data on animal abusers and won’t adopt to questionable adopters, but this isn’t the kind of registry animal advocates are talking about as it’s small and pertaining to usually single shelters. And, this only prevents a small problem in that animals are available everywhere. Just like drug abusers find drugs and violent criminals find weapons, an animal abuser will not have difficulty finding an animal to harm or kill.

A large number of counties in the U.S. have registries. A smaller number of states have them, too, and many states are proposing the implementation of state registries in 2018. Tennessee was the first state to adopt one. Recently, New Jersey state Rep. Troy Singleton (D) said about legislation he sponsored to make his state home to the second statewide animal abuse registry: The idea would be a state’s “first line of defense” in identifying people who might be capable of harming people in the future.

Another question: Will an animal abuser registry actually prevent animal abuse?

It’s hard to say. One thing that can be said with confidence is that the list would help shelters, rescues, and pet stores prevent registered animal abusers from adopting or buying animals.

From a 1011 Now in Lincoln discussion of this issue: “Given the limited scope, reach and utilization of animal abuse registries, it is unlikely they would have any significant impact on the incidence of animal cruelty,” said Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty projects for the ASPCA. The number of people who end up on registries is negligible, he said. Tennessee’s has just 12.

Animal advocates want no animal abuse and having a registry could help prevent it. How much it will move the needle is difficult to predict. If the list doesn’t prevent animal abuse, there’s still the argument that the registry could lead to prevention of these larger-scale crimes like mass shootings.

Nebraska does not currently have an animal abuse registry, nor is it being considered by lawmakers. Ten states’ lawmakers are considering the measure in 2018. Animal advocates also have the fact that few records are available online for animal abusers period. In February of 2017, the USDA pulled much information about animal abusers off its database. Records can be located but only after busting through more red tape.

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