Editorial: Shooting joke wasn’t funny
“My client didn’t make an actual credible threat.”
Defense attorney David Shrager made that statement in court Wednesday, dismissing the actions of Jason Bowen, 18, of Middlesex as an inappropriate joke.
Inappropriate? Yes. Joke? Not funny.
The “joke” was a Snapchat video showing Bowen shooting a semiautomatic rifle with the caption emblazoned across the screen: “training for prom walk.”
If that was the set-up, where is the punch line? What makes us wipe our eyes, catch our breath and say, “Good one, Jason!”
Maybe it wasn’t meant as a serious threat to take a dangerous weapon into a school dance and enact the kind of mass slaughter we have seen in kindergarten classrooms, high school hallways, movie theaters, nightclubs, bars, churches, yoga studios, newspaper offices, Congressional baseball games and synagogues.
Maybe it was ironic. Maybe it was sarcastic. Maybe it was just an attempt at a joke by someone who isn’t very funny.
But in criminal proceedings, sometimes your intent doesn’t matter.
If you drink and drive, it doesn’t matter if you meant to kill someone. You crash your car, someone dies and you are charged with that death.
Rob a bank and someone accidentally gets shot? That’s second degree murder in Pennsylvania, even if you only wanted the cash and never intended for anyone to get hurt.
Bouncing a check is still against the law even if you just messed up your math. Try telling the IRS you really meant to pay your taxes but just forgot.
Every day, adults are held accountable for the consequences of their actions regardless of the intent. We have to stop teaching our kids that the intent is all that matters because it’s a lie.
Intent is important because it has a relationship to the success of a crime. It might be related to the planning or the execution, or whether a shooter cares more about his target dying than his own survival. Intent is aim and design, but neglect or carelessness can be just as dangerous and has to be addressed just as seriously by law enforcement.
Because sometimes intent misses the mark. Sometimes it hits where it wasn’t aiming, apparently like Bowen’s “joke.”
We don’t have the luxury of shrugging off what might be a joke anymore. Every mass shooting sends people combing through the social media accounts of suspects on treasure hunts for things you wish you knew the day before someone died.
We can’t come together to compromise or even talk about gun laws or mental health or other ways to stop these catastrophic acts of murder and terror.
All we can do is take someone’s own words at face value.