Juvenile Criminal Thoughts


I have no idea if this is a 20 gauge. This is not a blog particularly concerned with the accurate identification of firearms. I do believe, however, it is a shotgun.

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.

Source: KAOT.com – DA: Roswell shooting suspect cannot be charged as 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.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research – Juvenile Crime and Punishment

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.

Source: Wikipedia – American juvenile justice system

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.

8 responses

  1. I agree. There is a vast difference between rehabilitating a child who doesn’t understand the reality of what he is doing and saving a calculating killer who happens to be young.


    1. I wonder if there’s a study that shows how many of these types go on to be the hypothetical “productive members of society?” I’m thinking it would be low, because leopard and spots.


  2. Once again (as happens way to often around these things), I am left wordless.

    except to say that there’s a lot of merit in what you say.


    1. Thanks, Guapo. Making you wordless was never my goal. 🙂


    1. Why should most of us have to live our lives worrying if our neighbors are doing like like leaving loaded guns on the kitchen table for junior to take to school. That doesn’t seem right. They should have to pay when that goes awry.


  3. There’s a lot of interesting brain research that shows the decision-making part of the brain doesn’t reach its full potential until a person is in their 20s (see stupid college behavior). But we let teens drive (with regulation), we let people in their early 20s drink (with regulation) — so the whole (they’re not fully developed to make rational choices argument is hogwash). But of course regulating access to guns is off the table, because well, guns.

    I love the idea of making adults who control access to guns be responsible for a child’s action with them — I’m trying to think about how that would be with other dangerous things — cars, booze, — parents are held responsible for underage drinking that occurs (with their knowledge) in a lot of jurisdictions. Why not the same for guns?

    Great post.


    1. I agree completely. 16 is too young for a driver’s license. 30 is too young to get married.

      When I was the parent of a minor, I know for a fact that I was responsible for my child’s actions. He decided to ride his bike into the back of some guy’s parked car. The dude showed up at my job and demanded a check for damages. Good times!

      It seems so simple to me. If you leave loaded guns around your house, you should be held 100% responsible for what your minor children do with them. Period.


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