Cultural Revolutions

Sensationalizing if Youth Violence

"Children killing children." The very phrase is chilling. But what can the law do about a six-year-old who shoots and kills his first-grade classmate? According to our Anglo-American legal heritage of common law, not much. Children under the age of seven are presumed not to be able to know the difference between right and wrong, and thus are not held criminally responsible for their actions. This can be superceded by statute, however, and in Michigan, where the latest such instance (at this writing) occurred, there is no lower age limit on criminal prosecutions. (This is true of 22 other states as well.) Nevertheless, the prosecutor for Genesee County, where the Buell Elementary School is located, has made clear his belief that both the victim and the perpetrator in this case are to be pitied, and that punishment is inappropriate.

The six-year-old shooter came from a troubled family, to put it mildly, and was, at the time of his misdeed, living in what the media described as a "crack house." He found his weapon, a .32 caliber semiautomatic handgun, on a bed, left there by a 19-year-old "roommate" of the boy's "legal guardian." his uncle. Prosecutors are now bringing charges of involuntary manslaughter against the roommate, on the grounds that his gross negligence and recklessness in leaving a loaded handgun where the six-year-old could find it is what caused the loss of life.


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