This week brought the news that a 12-year-old boy in the 8th grade took a loaded sawed-off 20 gauge pump shotgun to his school and opened fire, seriously wounding an 11-year-old boy (shot in the face) and a 13-year-old girl in the school’s gym.
cold… calculated… premeditated… random…
The New Mexico state police stated that the attack was “planned.” Part of that planning included the shooter issuing warnings to friends, advising them to stay away from school.
The 20-gauge shotgun is a type of smoothbore shotgun shell that is smaller in caliber (.615) than a 12 gauge (.729). It is often used as a beginning shooter’s practice round and is noted by its yellow hull.
A 20-gauge shotgun is sometimes considered more suitable for hunting certain types of game, because it damages less meat, which makes it suitable for most game birds.
Source: Wikipedia – 20-gauge shotgun
The firearm was obtained by the shooter from “family members,” the police said. The shooter’s Facebook page featured a picture of the shooter beside a deer he had killed during a hunting trip.
The shooter cannot be charged as an adult because he is under the age of 14. Under New Mexico state law, anyone under the age of 14 cannot be charged as an adult.
Why? Why do we have laws like this?
Over the last two decades the punitiveness of the juvenile justice system has declined substantially relative to the adult courts. During that same time period juvenile violent crime rates have grown almost twice as quickly as adult crime rates.
As I ponder the why and how it came to be this way, it occurs to me a justice system that considers the age of the criminal provides a means of lessened consequences which allows the criminal to take less responsibility for what they have done. In other words, as an individual, the criminal is afforded consideration contrary to the general welfare of the group (society).
The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Chicago as a byproduct of the Progressive Era. At the time, anyone under the age of seventeen who committed a crime was placed in the same judicial system as adults. As social views began to change, many started to see juvenile offenders as youths who had simply lost their way, rather than hardened criminals. It was believed that with proper instruction, and disciplinary guidelines instituted, a youth could be rehabilitated and again become a productive member of society.
I’ve also been under the impression that a separate standard of criminal justice for juveniles was based on the premise that punishment was only effective when an individual was developed enough to be aware of the consequences and meaning of one’s own actions.
Saving an individual and rehabilitating them to be a “productive member of society” is a worthy goal, but I believe that should only become a possibility after society has properly protected itself. The bottom line is that the needs of the criminal must be the secondary concern. And that is where I feel a separate standard for juveniles falls short.
I wasn’t kidding when I originally wrote that. If a 12-year-old shooter isn’t developed enough to take full responsibility for his actions, what then? I submit that, as a minor, he’s the responsibility of one or more adults. If they don’t want the child to be tried as an adult then they should accept responsibility by proxy.
Another idea, which seems like a no-brainer to me, is that any adult that provides a minor access to a firearm (intentionally or not) should be legally responsible for what happens next. Someone made a decision to own a shotgun and make it accessible to a 12-year-old boy. That person or persons should be facing charges.
Why does any of this matter? Because most people make personal choices for things like safety and their own security. Perhaps they choose not to own a gun. Or, if they do, they practice range safety and make sure it is properly secured when not in use. They make sure unqualified, untrained or dangerous people cannot access the weapon.
Why should someone who takes proper precautions and responsibility have their life ended by someone who doesn’t? Ultimately that’s what we’re talking about. It is the transference of death, injury and harm from the irresponsible to the responsible and/or innocent. Our system of justice needs to be more oriented towards making sure there is much, much less of that.
Without meaningful consequences meaningless actions will always continue.