Only America has this problem.

Guard bear threatens pedestrians. [Image by Gillfoto, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Guard bear threatens pedestrians. [Image by Gillfoto, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

A few days ago, we saw yet another tragic massacre in which a frustrated young man blocked the doors of a classroom and released a pride of lions to attack the defenseless people trapped inside. A day later, a tragic story of a child eaten by a negligent neighbor’s animal. And on Friday, two more school maulings in a single day. The rapid succession of violent events has left Americans struggling to understand the cause of all these injuries and deaths from large predators. Many wonder if America’s unique habit of collecting exotic large predators might be the underlying cause for all these people being eaten by exotic large predators.

But conservative pundits are skeptical, and argue that deeper causes, not lions and bears, are more likely to blame for the epidemic of people being eaten by lions and bears. “These things happen,” said presidential candidate Donald Trump, who suggested that similar tragedies could be avoided if professors had predators of their own. Some experts respond by noting instances where professors have used their animals to attack colleagues, and other cases where large cats or bears were inadvertently left unattended in student restrooms.

Rival candidate Jeb Bush contributed a similarly insightful analysis, saying “stuff happens.” Bush later elaborated, saying

Things happen all the time. A child drowns in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around a pool… The cumulative effect of this is that in some cases, you don’t solve the problem by passing the law and you’re imposing on large numbers of people burdens that make it harder for our economy to grow, make it harder to protect liberty.

This event marked the 986th mass mauling since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Large predator deaths in the US total more than 32,000 each year. Why does the US suffer more of these deaths than any other country? Researchers suggest that its because US citizens own more large cats, wolves and bears than any other country in the world. “There are more tigers in Texas than in India,” according to a statement from Mayors Against Animal Violence. In fact, US citizens have the majority of the world’s privately owned lions, tigers, pumas, cheetahs, wolves and grizzly bears. There are approximately 270 million privately owned large predators in the US, nearly one for each person. This has led some experts to conclude that animal control laws are the only option to stem the tide of these tragedies.

“We know that predator control laws work,” said public health researcher David Hemenway, “because in countries where tigers are outlawed, no one gets eaten by tigers.” Meanwhile the National Guard Animal Association (NGAA) countered with a billboard campaign, “It’s not a guard animal problem, it’s a heart problem.”

The NGAA argues that the vast majority of large predators (they prefer the term “guard animals”) are used for self defense. According to the NGAA, 200,000 women use guard animals each year to defend against sexual assault, and three out of five felons say they wouldn’t mess with a victim if they have a lion or bear. They also point out that in 1982, Kennesaw, Georgia passed a law requiring heads of households to keep at least one large predator in the house. The residential burglary rate subsequently dropped 89% in Kennesaw, compared to just 10.4% drop in Georgia as a whole. But Hemenway disagrees, claiming that these numbers appear to be completely made up, and contradict the growing corpus of publicly available research data.

This tiger is considered a beloved family member and protector.

A growing number of critics argue that large predators make the home a more dangerous place, and that the self defense benefits are outweighed by the risks these animals pose to their owners and their families. Last year, 21,175 people we killed by their own guard animals, while 11,208 people were victims of homicide by guard animals. Furthermore, predator deaths are strongly correlated with predator ownership. Tragically, more than 7,000 children are mauled or eaten each year. Aggregating all the deaths since 1970, more than 1.35 million Americans have been killed and eaten by large predators, all most as many as were killed in all the wars fought since the revolution.

In spite of these numbers, US law has been very lax on the subject, and private citizens are bringing large predators into their homes more than ever before [because we really are this stupid even though I’m trying to write an absurd satire]. The state of Ohio established its first serious laws regulating large predators after a 2011 incident when an owner unleashed fifty-six tigers, lions, bears and primates on his town as part of a suicide act, creating a significant public danger. In response, many citizens began stockpiling animals in an effort to protect themselves from other people’s animals.

Animal control laws have worked in other countries. Australia’s aggressive animal control laws led to a 74% decline in predator-related deaths. Additional research shows that suicide-by-predator attempts are successful in nearly all cases, whereas attempts using other methods (cutting, poison) have less than 10% success rate. Predator control activists argue that strong regulations or outright bans would substantially reduce maulings and deaths.

Experts’ recommendations may be falling on deaf ears. Congress has made no progress on animal control legislation in the past three decades, and republican interest groups are adamant that they would rather see every person in America eaten alive than consider any regulations whatsoever on large predators. Indeed, efforts to hold owners accountable for the deaths of neighborhood children have met with complete dismissal. When asked about negligence laws, Utah Senator Mike Lee responded that “you shouldn’t hold owners liable for animal deaths any more than you would prosecute them if a child drowns in a swimming pool. So what if someone’s tiger eats the neighbor kid? That doesn’t mean you blame the tiger, and you don’t blame the owner either. It’s nobody’s fault. A tiger’s gotta eat after all.”

Federal agencies like the CDC are furthermore barred from doing research on large predators and their impact on public health and safety. House Speaker John Boehner defended the ban:

Listen, the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect the public health. I’m sorry, but a guard animal is not a disease. And animals don’t kill people; their claws and teeth do. And when people use animals in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual, not blame the action on some innocent animal. Listen, there are hundreds of millions of these animals in America. They’re there. And they’re going to be there. They’re protected under the Second Amendment.”

When Boehner was reminded that public safety is a part of the CDC’s mandate, not just diseases, he pretended not to hear the comment and did not respond. Writing in Huffington Post, Mike Weisser reacted to Boehner’s position:

In 1980, only 11 percent of all motorists wore seatbelts, but by 2000 mandatory seatbelt laws probably saved upwards of 10,000 lives every year. This remarkable change in driving habits and safety laws occurred because of safety research conducted by the CDC. Did you ever hear the AAA say that “cars don’t kill people, people kill people?” Nobody would ever say something so stupid or dumb. But John Boehner gets away with it every time he and his colleagues cave in to pressure from the NGAA and vote to defund CDC research on predators. Of course we all know that predator research is just a smokescreen for taking away all our animals. Ever notice how CDC research got rid of all those cars?

In spite of the apparent gridlock among lawmakers, there are some signs of progress. The number of households owning large predators has been declining. Today, only about 30% of households own one of these dangerous beasts. But among those who do own predators, the number of predators per house has grown enormously, and the number of mass maulings continues to grow as unstable youths take advantage of their parents’ large animal collections to bring about mass murder.

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