Legal Review & Comment: Aftermath of tragedy- more views on parents’ accountability for acts of their children

December 19, 2012 By Sam Howe and Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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In the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, many have been searching for answers and seeking to identify the cause of this senseless massacre.  Others have used the mass killing of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School as a sign for action.  
Some groups and organizations, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have called for stronger gun control laws. At the other end of the spectrum, Missouri, for example, has introduced a law that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in school.  In Utah, an 11-year old sixth grader was detained and charged with bringing an unloaded .22 caliber handgun to school in order to “protect his friends and family from a Connecticut-style shooting.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle has also been searching for answers and cures. We have been asking legal authorities to comment on a related issue that seems to elude many pundits: How can the critical role of parents not be examined and held accountable?
We are wondering if prevention should not only start at home, but maybe it should be compelled, legally, to start at home.  Can we, or rather should we put the fear of punishment into parents so it will be passed along to the children? As we struggle with the laws to increase limitations on weapons — and watch the capricious reversals that indicate the power of big lobbyists budgets — maybe more consensus could come around the idea of greater parental accountability?
Here are some comments by Richard Allan, a Brooklyn attorney and former associate producer at CBS:

The question of parental responsibility is a controversial one. And it is controversial for a number of reasons. The first is that when something this tragic happens, we, as a people want to ask, “‘Who can we blame?” Collective blame, that is what we seek. But there is not just one thing that went wrong here.”

When you start looking at criminal sanctions against parents, you have to show some form of intent — an intent to disregard. This scheme can become dangerous. When you have a 12-year-old or 13-year-old child that is a bit odd or a bit quiet, can you say that the parent is clearly disregarding the child’s well being and therefore if the child commits a crime the parent is guilty?”

What may seem cute or normal to one parent may seem disturbing to another. When do you say to a parent that they have gone too far, that they have gone so far over the limit (and who sets the “limit” is a question of more controversy) that there is clear criminal negligence or that there is clear criminal intent? Can we hold parents responsible? Yes.  Can we hold parents criminally negligent? Yes. But, what’s weird to me may not be weird to you and that is not negligence.”

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When we talk about the Newtown tragedy in terms of parental responsibility I think that we lose sight of larger issues. Even couching the issue in the terms of mental illness we then slide into the stigmatization of mental illness and issues.The most important issue, from my point of view, is we limit the access to and types of weapons provided to the general public. I have been involved in issues of international terrorism and it comes down to something very simple: some things are right and some things are wrong.”

The 2nd Amendment does not allow you to have hand grenades. The 2nd Amendment does not allow you to purchase a rocket missile to shoot down a plane that may come too close to your home. Times have changed from 1776. What the framers on the Constitution intended when drafting the 2nd Amendment was a musket, not an assault rifle. We do not have absolute rights. Rights are not granted to us in a vacuum. My right to own guns also impinges on your right not to own guns. Let’s stop pointing fingers and let’s stop talking in absolutes. If I were in a position to create policy, I would start with the premise that we need to institute a ban on assault weapons, a ban on magazines that hold 100 bullets, and the like. It is not a necessity.  If we do not do anything about what transpired in Connecticut then we have become a second-rate nation.

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