Monday, January 09, 2006

As if watching the debate isn't punishment enough

The second round of leaders' debates starts tonight. Given the flurry of 'Tough on Crime' policy announcements in recent days (more accurately, 'Tougher Than Them on Crime', policy announcements, giving rise to 'They are Complete Pussies on Crime But We Favour Beating Criminals With Sock-Wrapped Cue Balls' policy announcements), one topic sure to be on the agenda is crime and punishment. Heavy emphasis on the punishment.

One theme that keeps coming up is automatic minimum sentences for crimes committed with guns. Now, I'm against crime in general (the hilarious, slapstick Home Alone variety excepted). And I'm all about banning guns and everything associated with them - bullets, those little paper bad guy targets, small penises. But I don't quite get the minimum sentence thing. I mean, why for guns but not for other weapons?

Okay, I do grasp that guns are an inherently greater risk to the public at large. Rarely does an innocent bystander get cut in a botched drive-by knife throwing - and when it does happen, the perp is usually easily tracked to a nearby circus where he goes by the name of the Amazing Stabini ("Let the blindfolded lady go and step away from the Wheel of Death!"). Rarer still are incidents where somebody gets choked by some stray piano wire during a drive-by strangling. And when this happens, the assailant is invariably dealt with (that is, politely reprimanded then sent to 'sleep with the fishes') by embarrassed fellow mobsters.

But when you are the intended victim, a gun is not necessarily less dangerous or less terrifying than any other weapon of choice. Just ask anyone who's been on the business end of a shoulder-carried anti-tank missile launcher, or mugged at chainsaw-point.

My problem with mandatory minimum sentences is that their inflexibility inevitably gives rise to injustice in certain cases. For example, is it fair to give a kid 10 years for shoplifting when he happened to have a handgun in his waistband? He might have forgotten it was there. A Guardian 32 ACP Double-action Semiauto measures a teeny 4.4 inches in length, and kids' pants these days are notoriously baggy. Aight, Holmes?

And longer jail terms are not a deterrent, since most would-be criminals don't weigh in advance the consequences of what they are about to do. (As an aside, this is also a common, but in my view misguided, argument against capital punishment. Capital punishment is a huge deterrent. Unfortunately, it deters people, some of them innocent, from living. But that's an issue I'd rather not get into until a future Prime Minister Harper says we have to.)

It's also argued that, at least for the length of his jail term, an offender is off the street and not committing more crime. Obviously true, but that's a slope more slippery than dew on snot. By that logic, why not give all criminals life sentences right off the bat. Or, better yet, incarcerate folks before they offend - Minority Report style. As a rule of thumb, public policy should never resemble anything connected to Tom Cruise.

And anyway, assuming that 'precog' technology is a few years off (and judging from the quality of debate in this election campaign, Canada is a tad short on visionaries of any sort) , how would you predict who is a future pistol packin' ganstah? The Charter would likely prevent us, and rightly so, from using race and socioeconomic status as indicators. But it would not preclude preventive intevention based on appearance - i.e. the arrest and permananet incarceration of anyone who looks 'sorta shifty'.

If that's the standard, some of us should start packing around a toothbrush, just in case.


At January 09, 2006 9:22 p.m., Blogger Havril said...

Okay, why didn't anyone TELL me about all those typos? Are you trying to sabotage me. E-mail, people, it's called E-mail.

At January 09, 2006 9:24 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Havril said...Okay, why didn't anyone TELL me about all those typos? Are you trying to sabotage me. E-mail, people, it's called E-mail.

Spell checker, Hav, it's called spell checker!

At January 10, 2006 2:10 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on the mandatory sentencing... hmmm, must remember to remove gun from granny sized panties in case I forget it's there.

At January 10, 2006 6:42 p.m., Blogger Havril said...

hmmm, must remember to remove gun from granny sized panties in case I forget it's there.

Put your hands up and step away from the coulottes, ma'm!


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