Crime, punishment, and blurred distinctions

In a long update to my "I should care?" post, I got a little hot and bothered by the idea that disagreeing with gun control means not caring that people are being killed.

This touches on a fundamental disagreement which tends to be lost in the gun control debate, and that disagreement is over CRIME AND PUNISHMENT:

April Saul, who has been chronicling Philadelphia's many teen shooting deaths in a piece called Kids, Guns, and a Deadly Toll [...] explains "why she decided to tell these stories" and at no point does she express even the slightest desire to see the killers caught and punished.

I don't think this means she does not care. Obviously, she cares very much, but in a different way than the way I care. If I had a teenager who had been murdered, I'd want the perpetrators caught and punished, not just for personal reasons, but because I think putting away murderous people is in the ultimate best interest of civilization. April Saul, by saying she would "not try to distinguish between the 'guilty' and the 'innocent,'" in my view is subordinating the distinction between murderer and victim to a narrative which blames the tools used by murderers.

Obviously, I disagree. But what really galls me is this notion that because I disagree over how to address a problem, I don't care about it.

This is by no means a disagreement between me and April Saul (whom I've never met). It touches on a growing chasm in society, between people who see crime as something that deserves to be punished, and people who see criminals and their victims as indistinguishable. Even the views of Philadelphia's Police Commissioner don't sound all that different from those of April Saul:
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson says, "You have a family that's been devastated not only lost one to death but probably going to lose one to life in prison for killing the other family member,"
The suspect (an ex con in felonious possession of a handgun) murdered three people in a bar, yet the police commissioner and a lot of other people would entertain the idea that his imprisonment is tragic. I think this goes to the heart of the cultural chasm, and it might go a long way in explaining the hopeless nature of the gun control debate. For, if it is tragic for murderers to be sent to prison, then simple logic dictates that it would be even more tragic for them to be killed in self defense by armed citizens.

It flows from the proposition that criminals do not deserve to be punished. In fairness to both sides, though, I think it has to be recognized that the debate over crime and punishment is becoming ever more clouded by the war on drugs.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the clamor to eliminate the distinction between criminal and victim has accompanied the growth of an immense criminal, economic, and law enforcement nexus which drives a large portion of the economy in this country and around the world, and which is predicated on the idea that self abuse is a crime against society. I can think of no better way to blur the distinction between criminal and victim than by creating an immense system of law in which criminal and victim are synonymous, and that harming oneself deserves a lengthy prison term. This has consequences, and they're now being seen in the form of ever-wider acceptance of the terrible idea that we should not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent.

Drug dealers are economic offenders, who sell to willing buyers, and who would not exist without a market. That this market is a crime makes it more profitable, and more violent. Drug dealers are seen as people who are trying to make a living in difficult circumstances, and the crimes they commit against each other are being blamed not on the illegal market, but on certain tools of their trade. They are seen as victims, and the gun is seen as the culprit. It would make about as much sense to say that they are victims of the drugs they sell, but no one would listen to that argument, because the drugs are universally illegal, whereas the guns are not. However, making guns illegal is about as likely to solve the gun problem as making drugs illegal has solved the drug problem.

What the drug laws have done is to distort the traditional perception of crime from one of criminal-who-harms-victim to one of criminal-who-harms-self. This in turn has clouded society's normal desire to punish the criminal. Now, there has always been a tendency in some circles to see criminals as victims, but when crime is defined as including self victimization, and when this category of crime becomes as large as it is now, much greater mischief results. The war on drugs has created a large and constantly growing class of angry dissenters who see all criminals as victims.

As for me, I think they're terribly mistaken in their logic. Just because the drug laws have criminalized victimhood does not mean that all criminals are victims.

Murder remains murder, assault remains assault. The motive is secondary; whether someone was murdered for selling drugs on a competing dealer's corner or for refusing to pay a drug debt, that no more justifies murder than jealousy over a girlfriend. The problem is that drug war has vastly enlarged the criminal class and caused people to lose sight of simple reality.

But when on top of that they accuse me of not caring, I must protest!

MORE: A remark by M. Simon in an earlier post bears repeating:

The War On Some Drugs was always a prototype for the War On Guns. If American gun owners really took this to heart the Drug War would be over in America in short order.

posted by Eric on 07.31.07 at 10:13 AM










Comments

One question that usually shuts them down is, "how illegal do you think we need to make guns in order to get murderers to switch to clubs and knives?"

Phelps   ·  July 31, 2007 12:01 PM

Tools of the trade: in liberalism generally there is a principle that blames the tool for causing some problem, rather than the tool user.

The transnationalists want to ban nations because nations beget wars, bigotry, chauvinism, etc.

They want electronic voting because of problems with paper ballots, instead of realizing that it was either a systemic problem or the fault of the users, not the specific tool. (That one's kind of a stretch)

The other way to look at it is in terms of personal responsibility. Some folks think safety is a higher goal than liberty, and if harm should come out of liberty, then it must be curtailed -- for the children.

Loren Heal   ·  July 31, 2007 1:08 PM

Post a comment


April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

ANCIENT (AND MODERN)
WORLD-WIDE CALENDAR


Search the Site


E-mail



Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link



Archives



Recent Entries



Links



Site Credits