-By Warner Todd Huston
Congress has suddenly realized something. Animals could be dangerous! Gosh. One wonders what magick faierie dust was sprinkled on these stalwart protectors of the public weal that made them realize that animals are dangerous? Whatever fantastic episode befell Congress they have acted and hence these high mukety-mucks last year introduced an ominous sounding bill called the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (H.R. 669).
According to the summary this bill is supposed to, “prevent the introduction and establishment of nonnative wildlife species that negatively impact the economy, environment, or other animal species’ or human health, and for other purposes.” But like most federal laws it has an element of overreach to it.
That overreach is a stipulation that would require all dealers in pets to “prove” that their animals are “safe” and “noninvasive” and to present scientific proof to that end. As specified, the act would require, “sufficient scientific and commercial information to allow the Secretary to evaluate whether the proposed nonnative wildlife species is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to other animal species’ or human health.”
In other words, pet sellers would have to engage scientists, economists, medical experts and the like to assemble a report that shows the government that the pet they are selling is safe for humans and the environment. And even at that rate the final decision is in the hands of the government and any capricious decision could be returned even after all that expense is incurred by pet sellers.
As I said, the idea almost sounds reasonable. After all, we have invasive species like the Asian Catfish that is currently invading the entirety of America’s waterways and if we might be able to prevent such ecological catastrophes in the future then that is all to the better, right? I mean, we certainly do want our government to make some sort of provision to protect us from invasive species. But this sort of one-size-fits-all plan is the wrong way to go about it.
The problem is, though, that we have the word “nonnative” in this bill. That means that just about every small pet is included in the you-gotta-prove-it category. Hamsters, gerbils, almost all aquarium fish whether fresh or salt water, many snakes, spiders, and bugs, and almost ever single species of bird kept as pets for generation in this country are in this category and could be at risk of a sudden ban.
Imagine the expense that pet sellers will have to go to in order to continue their business. In fact, this law will serve to eliminate most small pet dealers because they simply will be unable to afford the exorbitant expense of proving their pets are safe and most species that people have kept as pets for generations will threatened under this bill.
Plus this is another one of those absurd one-size-fits-all bills that does not take into account the differences in geography and weather that is the United States of America. One species that might be problematic in Florida, for instance, would not be any trouble at all in North Dakota (think tropical fish or snakes). Yet this Act would treat animals exactly the same as if the whole country was just like Florida. If a species is problematic in any part of the U.S. it will be banned from sale every where in the country. No logic need apply.
Finally, this is yet one more example of the loss of freedom and an ever expanding government feeding on our freedoms like ravenous… well, a ravenous invasive species. Legislation like this is yet one more example of Congress regulating our liberties away and forcing expensive, unnecessary rules on our business community. This act will destroy untold numbers of jobs and small businesses and what’s more will take away the joy that millions of American pet owners have in caring for and dealing in their favorite animals.
Here it behooves us to recall the warning about democracy turning into a “soft despotism,” uttered by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1840:
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act is just such an example of Tocqueville’s feared “soft despotism.” It is one we should reject.