This post comes just in the wake of an ongoing discussion I've been having with Will Baude on how to address dangerous dogs, as well as defining just what is a dangerous dog, anyway. My family had a pit bull when I was younger and she was a great companion animal. She did have protective instincts, but I'm generally of the opinion that a dog that defends its mistress when she is physically attacked in her home is a good dog, not a bad one.
Anyway, I spent some time Googling around, and apparently there is one trait that is overwhelmingly common in dogs that fatally attack humans: whether the dog has been spayed or neutered. Non-neutered male dogs are overwhelmingly more likely to fatally attack a human than any other kind of dog. But although it's a lot easier to tell if a male dog is unaltered than it is to identify a pit bull, we have breed bans instead of strict requirements to neuter your pet. Instead of picking up someone's illegal dog and taking it to be gassed, why not fine them an amount equivalent to the cost of the surgery and take the dog away to get fixed?
Will seems to think our reluctance to impose this type of solution ties into people's anthropomorphization of their pets, especially men's empathy for their male dogs. (He also linked it to our growing reluctance to see castration as a form of appropriate punishment, since now chemical castration, a medicalized treatment more than a medieval sanction, has become the norm for castrating sex offenders.) But wouldn't any caring pet owner rather see his dog neutered than killed?
I've got little stake in this; my dream pet is a rescued greyhound. But I do know that pit bulls can make good pets, that there are thousands of them that need homes, and that blaming breeds for aggression blinds us to everything owners should do to make all their dogs safe for the rest of us: neutering them, training them, and loving them.