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How Come Some People Shoot Other People?

Yesterday, a 34-year-old man was sentenced to 12-15 years in state prison for shooting a state trooper in Springfield, MA, which is where I happen to live. The trooper survived his wound because he was hit by a stray shot in the leg when he responded to a report about two guys fighting in the street and one of the combatants pulled out and shot a gun at the other guy.

The shooter, a black guy named Chris Gardner, was convicted of the following crimes: armed assault to murder (2 counts), assault and battery on a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon (2 counts), carrying a firearm without a license, discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a building.

Seven felony charges and the guy’s going away for 12 – 15 years. Maybe he’ll only be locked away for 9 years if he behaves himself in stir.

Actually, he may only be off the streets for 6 years because he’s been in jail since the shooting occurred, which was – ready? – December 31, 2020!

I don’t know whether Gardner had committed other crimes prior to how he was celebrating the New Year by trying to kill someone else three years ago, but I suspect this particular incident wasn’t the first time his behavior had come to the attention of the police.

Most individuals, almost all individuals who try to kill someone by using a gun have been behaving in a violent, anti-social way from at least their early teens, if not before. We know this from the research conducted by Marvin Wolfgang published fifty years ago. We also know from the research by Alan Lizotte, that men who wind up using a gun in crimes first get interested in guns when they are 12-13 years old.

Is there a chance that Chris Gardner had been leading a happy, carefree, and lawful life up to the moment he tried to kill someone in the street and happened to shoot the wrong man? The chances of that are about equal to the chance that Donald Trump will announce that he is supporting Joe Biden and wants to serve as Vice President after Joe is re-elected next year.

I find this situation incomprehensible for two reasons. First, I always thought the Constitution guaranteed a speedy trial after someone is charged with a crime. Three years is speedy? Are they serious? What if Gardner had been found innocent? How do you restore three years of someone’s life?

Second, I also thought that the whole purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect society from the behavior of individuals like Chris Gardner who evidently decided at some point that the best way to resolve a dispute with someone else was to pull out a gun.

If Gardner keeps his nose clean while he’s sitting at Walpole or Concord (the two state penitentiaries) he’ll be back on the streets when he’s 41 years old. And he’ll return to his usual haunts with the same ability to confront the challenges of ordinary life that he possesses right now.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a system which allows a violence-prone individual like Chris Gardner to avoid any real supervision or behavior modification until he actually tries to kill someone else, and then allows him to go back into his usual environment at an age when he still has the physical and mental faculties required to kill someone else.

Several years ago, I interviewed 61 youths between the ages of 14 and 17 who were politely referred to as the ‘residents’ of the state’s youth jail. These kids were all incarcerated for very serious crimes – murder, arson, robbery – and would be sent to Concord or Walpole when they turned 18 years old.

Just about all of these kids had also been convicted of carrying an illegal gun, so I asked them why they needed a gun and every, single one of them told me they carried a gun to ‘defend’ themselves.

The truth is they were carrying guns because they wanted to carry guns. And at some point, virtually every, single one of them would find themselves in a street-corner argument with someone else and out comes the gun.

How do you modify the behavior of kids who are prepared to commit the worst kind of violence by the age of 14? I can guarantee you that the only person in contact with Chris Gardner for the three years he awaited trial was the guard who escorted him and the other inmates to the area where they could pump some iron for an hour every day.

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