Trump signs a sweeping federal ban on animal cruelty

Jul 2013
Okay, as @Djinn has already pointed out, this law is not by any means a sweeping new federal anti-cruelty law. I get that it’s being presented as that, but it’s truly not. What it is, among other things, is an effort to introduce a fairly sweeping legal and ethical precedent with respect to human/nonhuman interactions.

It might surprise some to know that this law is part of an effort that’s been underway for more than 20 years now. If one goes through that lobbying history, one name pops up more than any other: Wayne Pacelle. Look him up – he’s an interesting character.

To frame what’s going on here, it’s instructive to look into the stated rationale for the 2010 federal law that banned the creation of “crush videos” for and the distribution of those videos in interstate and/or international commerce. Advocates for that law pointed out that while there were indeed state and territorial laws criminalizing the underlying acts of cruelty necessary to create these sorts of videos, there was no federal law against their commercial dissemination. Therefore purveyors who could not be shown to be responsible for the creation of the videos would escape punishment. There were also potential issues of jurisdiction and enforcement that could stymie state and local laws against “crush videos” as such. Thus, the argument went, a federal law was needed specifically to deter the creation and dissemination of these videos.

Fair enough… Most of us, I hope, would agree that there’s good reason to curb the commercial production and dissemination of “crush videos.”

Now, if one looks into the stated rationale for this new law, the argument goes that there is a “loophole” in the 2010 law. That supposed loophole is that the underlying acts necessary to create these videos were not themselves illegal under federal law absent any intention or action to make videos and put them into commerce.

That’s true, but...

There’s a bit of circular reasoning in the supposed justification for the new law, isn’t there? After all, there are already state and territorial anti-cruelty laws that criminalize the acts necessary to produce “crush videos” – as was acknowledged back in 2010. So where’s the need for a new federal law?

In fact, at first glance it would appear that the only individuals who are liable for punishment under the new law, and who might have escaped punishment under existing laws, are individuals who engage in acts of “animal crushing” in areas under direct federal jurisdiction, without intending to make and put videos into commerce. This would have to be a vanishingly small population. Why go to the trouble of amending federal law to include provisions that on their face would rarely if ever actually have occasion to be enforced and have little if any real-world import?

The answer, I submit, lies in the fine print of the law itself and can be discerned from the history of the law and the stated motivations of those who have pushed for something like it over several decades now. Simply put, this law is not as limited and targeted as it first appears.

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