Have we gone mad?
A 19-year-old orders a semi-automatic assault rifle from a home-based gun business in Fallon, Nevada. The owner of Big Mike’s Guns & Ammo — who says he’s in the business of selling guns for safe sports shooting — noted buyer Santino William Legan was acting happy and showed no reason for concern when he picked up the weapon he used several weeks later to kill 3 people and injury 12 others at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Some 2,075 miles away in Canton, Mich., another adult — the Wayne County district attorney — is prosecuting 10-year-old Bryce Lindley for assault during a game of dodgeball on a school playground.
Had police not killed Legan within a minute of the start of his deadly rampage Sunday we would be facing months, if not years, of intensive investigations and prosecution of Legan to convict him of his crime at great expense. Millions of dollars would have been spent in the pursuit of justice and easily well over a million warehousing Legan while he sat in prison waiting to die of natural causes.
Wayne County, given the DA has determined there is enough “evidence” to pursue aggravated assault charges, will unleash the system to prosecute a kid for injuring another kid while playing dodgeball. If convicted, the kid will end up with a record even if it is sealed and would likely be punished with time in juvenile detention.
One would think we’d try and focus society’s law enforcement system at trying to find ways to avoid the next teen from turning a food festival into a killing zone instead of prosecuting a kid for injuring another kid in dodgeball.
It is true prosecutors — and the criminal justice system as a whole — must deal with the facts and evidence as presented.
The kid injured in the game of dodgeball sustained a black eye and broken noise along with a concussion. The kid’s mother said her child had a previous medical condition that made him susceptible to head injuries.
One must assume the DA investigators interviewing underage witnesses had to come to the conclusion malice, intent, or reckless disregard for the well-being of the target existed in order to pursue charges. You have to wonder if the DA ever played dodgeball given its tends to involve malice, intent, and reckless disregard for others unless you have some other way to describe putting a hard rubber ball into the hands of a 10-year-old and telling them to take out other kids that are often trying to run away by throwing the ball as hard as they can.
What about the adults — read that educators at the school — that allow the game to be played? And let’s not forget the mother of the “victim” who clearly knew her kid had a serious medical condition but apparently did not take steps to advise school officials of the situation. The reason we know that this was likely was not done is no fuss has been raised about the school not taking steps to keep her son safer. But then again maybe she hasn’t had time yet to file a lawsuit against the school.
There is a clear assumption on the part of the DA that the 10-year-old is the culprit and was fully aware of the consequences of his actions which, in this case, is throwing a hard rubber ball with the sole purpose of hitting another person to take them out of the game.
In order to elevate the throw he made to aggravated assault, every other throw in the game had to meet the threshold of simple assault.
The DA might view this as rubbish but the defense could easily have expert witnesses testify — in this case any kid in a PE class who never wanted to play dodgeball but wasn’t given a choice by their teacher — that they view dodgeball as an assault on their person.
If the 10-year-old met a threshold of aggression to justify charges for the DA, then the conditions exist in practically every playground game of dodgeball for at least one player to be charged with aggravated assault.
The slippery slope regarding games and criminal intent needed to justify aggravated assault charges leads straight into the abyss.
Does a “jacked up” high school football player slamming as hard as they can into an opposing player constitute aggravated assault? What about a player that makes a late hit after a whistle?
And what about those that set up hyper 10-year-olds or hormone crazed teens to battle it out either in dodgeball or football? Are they the criminal equals of those that set up cockfights who know full well the combatants tend to not be restrained by limits?
Of course, the mother of the injured dodgeball player should be given a look at for possible child endangerment charges given she apparently allowed her son to continue to play in physical games even after she indicated her son had already suffered similar incidents while engaging in other physical activities at school. It doesn’t take too much of an effort to secure a doctor’s note to present to school officials or to admonish your child not to participate with other kids in games where contact occurs whether it is playing basketball or dodging balls.
In this case maybe the adults should be held accountable as well. After all they are the adults and they know the risks. At the same time just because a kid may be fearful of playing dodgeball because they don’t want to be hit doesn’t mean they understand they could sustain serious injury playing a game they are either told to play or engaging in a game that is OK to play on the school ground at recess or during lunch break.
As for the Legans of the world, maybe we need to stop acting like selling semi-automatic weapons is no more ominous than having 10-year-olds playing dodgeball and that when something goes wrong we prosecute whoever took the shot with the ball.
Perhaps a national rule needs to be imposed that anyone buying a semi-automatic weapon must face a federal social media background check. Given the cleverness of Google, Facebook et al to mine a wealth of information about us they can certainly come up with searches that scan all platforms looking for postings that are death threats or call for violence. All of this would be forwarded to a clearing house, authorities, and ultimately to the applicant. If a clear death threat has been posted that is a crime in itself then authorities can act accordingly. If the threats are general and not specific, they can be put on a watch list while authorities can make the call on whether to issue a permit. If the search comes across references to organizations that meet the threshold of being on a terrorist list by meeting strict criteria that goes way beyond political views, then the permit would be denied. The applicant would be told why and given an opportunity to appeal the decision.
This won’t stop all mass shooters or shooters motivated by random hatred. And while they could still seek out weapons illegally, at that point other people would face criminal charges for helping an eventual shooter skirt the background check.
It would stop the narrative in many mass shooting cases — although it may not end up applying to the Garlic Festival massacre — where police after the fact when they are conducting an investigation come across evidence on social media that pointed to the shooter’s desire to commit a violent act.
Not all mass shooters telegraph their intents via social media but most do.
Instead of prosecuting 10-year-old for playing dodgeball — the elementary school version of a fight club — perhaps we should direct our energies toward finding ways to prevent mass shootings from happening.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.