Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Punishing the parents?

The Sacramento Bee reports today:
The parents of a Vacaville toddler who was accidentally shot to death by her older brother have been arrested. ... Investigators say the Shanahan's 2-year-old daughter, Ayana, was killed Sept. 23 when their 8-year-old son accidentally fired a handgun. ... Solano County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Kauffman says the parents are facing up 13 years in state prison if convicted.

I have thought in the past in cases like this that the parents, by losing a child in what is obviously a horrible tragedy for their family, have been punished enough by their own stupidity. However, I've changed my mind.

I think the Shanahans deserve to be prosecuted and to be held publicly accountable for leaving a loaded weapon with no safety lock in a place in their home accessible to their children. This needs to be a very public prosecution and needs to send a clear message to all of the other idiots who have unprotected guns in their homes*.

The question is what is the appropriate penalty in order to get that message out?

Thirteen years in state prison, the maximum possible, would send that message. However, it's very expensive to imprison anyone for that long; five years would do the job; and I think there is a better way for them and for society.

Were it up to me, I would give the Shanahans, upon conviction, a choice: either you serve 5 years in state prison and hand over all of your property to the state for an auction sale; or be shamed.

What does it mean to be shamed? The couple needs to go out in public, rain or shine, in prison garb for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 52 weeks. Any single day they fail to appear for 8 hours adds 1 week to the sentence of shame.

If they fail to fulfill their 8 hour daily obligation 10 times during the year of shame, they will have to immediately go to prison for five years with no chance of parole; and all of their worldly possessions will be sold at auction for the public benefit.

They need to go to shopping malls, the county fairgrounds, schools, major intersections, the post office and other highly trafficked locations in Solano County, under the guidance of the county sheriff. They need to carry large signs which say, "I let my children have access to my loaded gun. My son used it to kill my daughter. Don't be stupid like I was."

The Shanahans might get some sympathy from strangers who see them. That's fine. They deserve some sympathy. However, most importantly, they will as extensively as possible get the message out that leaving a loaded gun in your home and letting kids have access to it results in tragedy.

That is a far better outcome than time in prison.


*A parallel case is with parents who keep vicious dogs as pets and then allow those dogs to maul their children or the children or pets of their neighbors. For such idiots, I would apply the exact same punishment: five years in prison or one year of shame. Let the criminal decide.

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