Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Should Adam Lanza's Mother's Estate be Held Financially Responsible for the Sandy Hook Shooting?

The pledge drive and begging bowl are retracted come Friday. I am so touched and surprised by the generosity of our readers. One of the things I have been mulling over is pushing some boundaries about what we talk about here on WARN. The emails that I have received these last few days are encouraging me to continue in that direction. We all have so much to discuss, learn from each other, and dialogue about in regards to broad matters of public concerns. Going forward, I will be taking all of your advice and pushing outward...and forward.

If you want support these endeavors, and to increase the platform and reach of the conversations we have here on We Are Respectable Negroes, do try to support the site if possible in our first ever donation drive. One of the reasons I want to grow the site, and to move it to new directions  is precisely so that we have a venue and space to talk about these difficult issues of race, politics, culture, and other matters that many folks are afraid to engage with in a forthright and direct manner.
I am going to take on a delicate and difficult question in this post.

I learn from all of you. There are attorneys and others trained in these questions who routinely read We Are Respectable Negroes. I do hope that they chime in. However, as the moment of discussing the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary quickly passes--trust me, this will be off the radar by next week--we cannot run away from topics that we may otherwise feel a desire to discuss at a later date.

This is the key gambit of the Gun Right--they want the public to wait, wait, wait, and then wait some more. Then we will be numb again. This is why discussions of gun violence, mass murder, and public policy are smeared as unfairly "politicizing" a tragic event by the Right and its gun advocates.

Life is political. The State's responsibility to protect its citizens is at the heart of the social contract. We left the imagined State of Nature in order to pursue that bargain, and to surrender the personal right to administer justice. The Gun Right would like the American people to overlook that basic fact.

By all accounts, Adam Lanza's mother was dealing with an unimaginably difficult situation. Her son had mental health issues. She felt isolated and alone. While she had substantial resources, and they were able to help her deal with the challenges of Adam's mental health issues in ways that poor and working class people could not, Adam Lanza's mother was not able to stop his murderous rampage.

We must ask, and while carefully allowing for the dignity of Adam Lanza's mother, what does justice look like post-Sandy Hook? There can be no punitive justice because Adam Lanza killed himself, here taking the coward's way out. Is the solution redistributive justice, where the surviving parents and relatives are offered some monies that can never bring back their child, partner, or kin? But, where the transfer of resources have some type of symbolic value? Do the plaintiffs sue the gun companies for making a weapon which worked as designed by killing their family members?

Actions have consequences. Part of the challenge of dealing with America's gun culture and the Gun Right is a profound unwillingness to deal with personal responsibility when people using guns kill--this is ironic, but not expected, given conservatives' love of that slogan, and the gross hypocrisy of their leadership and political role-models in applying it in their own lives.

Adam Lanza's mother had multiple guns in her home, all the while knowing that he was mentally ill. Her son also had ready access to those lethal devices. Adam Lanza's mother also went shooting with her son. Likely, and I can only imagine this was her way of trying to be close to a distant child, that such activities would health the gulf between them. This is understandable; I cannot pretend that I would behave otherwise. But, as we try to imagine sensible gun control policies going forward, and in an era when mass shootings are increasingly common in the United States, how should the decisions of Adam Lanza's mother be factored into our conversations about justice?

Earlier this week, the website Balloon Juice featured a very informative and useful conversation about gun safety and how mass shootings could (perhaps) be deterred. Many of the suggestions there were cogent, sharp, reasonable, and imminently practical. I am a soon-to-be gun owner. I would find little to disagree with in regards to the following suggestions.

Guns should be insured against use by unauthorized people. The rate of insurance should be directly tied to the type of weapon. Here, a car insurance analogy is appropriate. If you have a weapon with a low rate of fire, that only holds a few rounds, and is a pistol (for example) you are charged a low rate. If you have a weapon that is high capacity, a military grade rifle, and can fire many rounds in a short amount of time you pay a much higher rate. By analogy, if you own a new Porsche that goes 200 miles an hour, you have higher premiums than someone who is over 50 and drives a used sedan.

Ultimately, the market is used as a test of your desire and need to own such weapons.

All gun owners must have this insurance. All gun owners would need to get a proper license and attend gun safety classes. All gun owners would need a medical certificate of sanity and mental health. If you have minors in the home, there are higher rates for gun insurance. They must have trigger locks or be otherwise secured. If you want minors to be able to have access to those weapons, the rates go up again. If you can demonstrate a legitimate need to have a military style semi-automatic rifle like the one used at Sandy Hook (and receive the proper training and certifications), then that weapons must be kept at the gun range, locked up, insured, and can only be moved from place to place by a bonded security guard.

If you do not have this insurance, and are in possession of a weapon which is stolen and used in a crime you are held responsible and will go to jail. If you do not have sufficient insurance, and have a weapon that is used to harm others, your personal assets will be subject to claims in civil court by the injured parties. If your weapons are illegally modified, i.e. a semi-automatic rifle that is converted to full auto, then your insurance in voided and there will be criminal charges.

Thus, my questions. By analogy, did Adam Lanza's mother give her son, who while an adult, lived with him under her care, and that she knew had serious issues with drinking and driving, the keys to her new sports car? A car which he then used to hit and kill a bus full of children?

Teach me something if you would. What is the civil law in this matter? Could Adam Lanza's mother's estate be held responsible for her decision making? Will the survivors in this case be able to sue? How is damage computed for a child when there are few metrics to use in order to determine future earning capacity and wealth?


adamabroad said...

There is one aspect of the American Dream as largely shaped and accepted by white people that seems to apply here: denial of limitations.

Denial of all kinds is necessary to preserve the ego. But as a general rule, all Americans tend to believe in their own ability to overcome their limits, no matter how serious they may be, more than non-Americans. In particular, white people seem to be more zealous believers in this potential to exceed expectations than others.

I'm not a psychiatrist or a school counselor. But I do know better than to be surprised, if I provide some of my more poorly-behaving students with school supplies that could conceivably be used to hit people, when they take that opportunity and start smacking their classmates with what I've given them, even if they promised they wouldn't. This is not a great analogy, of course - they know those things I give them are relatively harmless, except for the cost of time - but it's still illustrative; some people, no matter what they say, can't be expected to keep themselves under control, for various reasons.

In this case, the mother seems to have denied the truth about her son and herself; his behavioral problems couldn't be held back forever, no matter how many times she went through Hannibal Lecter-style instructions with the various outsiders who handled him. By doing this, she made him seem vaguely monstrous and potentially dangerous in all their interactions with the larger world (potentially making him think of himself as a monster), and, simultaneously, failed to address the underlying issues.

That's one of the reasons I'm not sure I want to teach kids in the long run. Parents are emotional advocates, and it's easy to understand why. But I see a lot of harm done when parents, often white ones (well, always white ones here), can't learn to question their privileges, or the privileges they grant their kids. That sort of lack of awareness is toxic on an individual and societal level.

Ms. Bunny Easter said...


adamabroad said...

Well, maybe she wasn't denying it, not at the end. Reports say that she was going to have her son committed, and he was angry about it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/adam-lanza-motive_n_2329508.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

CS said...

Daily Beast Article from today takes on some what ifs.


The tone of the article is chilling. Begins to somewhat unpack the pathology you've been proposing.

CNu said...

The Psy-Ops War on Preppers: This Has Become a Two-For-the-Price-of-One Crisis

Anonymous said...