Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Unfortunate circumstances" a poor excuse

Carmen Guzman wants justice in the death of her daughter, Julissa Brisman, at the hands of Philip Markoff, the so-called "Craigslist killer." Of course, Markoff killed himself last year while awaiting trial, but Guzman believes that the gun store where Markoff purchased a 9mm pistol should be held accountable -- and she's right.

The story, in today's Globe, has a pair of quotes that leave me shaking my head. First, the owner of the State Line Gun Shop -- located about 3,000 feet over the border into New Hampshire -- said, "There really is nothing to say at all." Nothing to say about an establishment in a mostly rural state that sets up shop on the fringe of a major urban center and sells weapons to people from a neighboring state, where the gun laws are more restrictive? More than 100 guns that were purchased in New Hampshire were used to commit crimes in Massachusetts in 2009.

The next quote, even more disturbing, comes from the assistant US Attorney, who said, "It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances, but there doesn’t appear to be any intentional conduct on the part of the dealer." The "intentional conduct" of the dealer is to sell as many guns as possible and, therefore, not to worry about the details, which is this case involved a fake ID with an unconvincing photo and the name of the fake identity misspelled.

Sure, Markoff might have obtained a gun elsewhere, or he might have killed Julissa Brisman by some other means -- but wasn't her life worth just a little bit of effort on somebody's part?


dylan said...

If Miss Brisman had been stabbed, should the knife vendor be held liable? If she had been bludgeoned with a baseball bat, is the Louisville Slugger company responsible? If she had been strangled with a belt bought at Sears ... and so on. I don't believe that we should elide responsibility from the self-slain Philip Markoff to other parties simply because "someone" must be punished, and Markoff's death deprived us of the chance to punish him.

Your strongest point, I think, pertains to interstate commerce, and the probable knowledge on the part of the gun dealer that many of the guns bought in New Hampshire would be used in Massachusetts. But even there, I think that there would have to be a very strong indicator beforehand that the gun was going to be used for criminal mischief in order for the dealer to be held liable.

I don't want to come off as an absolutist of libertarianism, although I do have a bias in that direction, and I don't want to come off as indifferent to the pain of Mrs Guzman -- but justice does entail the punishment of guilty parties, not of parties where, as the assistant US attorney says, intentional conduct is absent, or at least extremely difficult to discern.

Jim said...

Selling baseball bats and belts is not illegal and there is no background check required by law. If this was a knife attack and the knife was procured in some way that violated the law I'd say yes, pursue the knife vendor. I don't simply believe that "someone" must be punished, but rather that if one works at a gun store and sees an ID that doesn't look like the buyer AND his first name is spelled incorrectly on some of the paper work, then it would seem to me that the seller has some obligation to be a bit more vigilant with the sale. A seller of belts and bats does not have that obligation or even that option.