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Criminalizing Emotional Turmoil

Today’s Fresno Bee asks:

How should a school react when a high school student sends a text message like this: “im gonna come to school with one of phillips guns and kill half the school ill load everyone with bullets and then shoot myself in the head right in front of u.” (“Flawed law forces court to OK text threats” (November 3, 2009) The Fresno Bee A5.)

The headline gives the impression that the Bee laments the fact a California court failed to approve a prison sentence for a stupid heartbroken kid’s empty threats.

The court — at least according to The Fresno Bee — reversed the conviction because the law requires a specific threat against a specific person. Apparently, at the time the statute was written, there was still a shred of common sense floating around somewhere and the legislature recognized that people sometimes say stupid things in anger that are tantamount to the anguished cries of a wounded animal.

People, of course, aren’t animals. Animal parents usually provide more care for their young than modern humans, at least among those species which aren’t entirely instinctively programmed to know everything they need to survive. Having once given birth, they don’t commit every adult in the family unit to work outside the home. There’s a focus on teaching survival skills: how, when and what to hunt, including how to protect themselves, and they’re also taught how to get along with others of their kind. Humans leave their children to be raised by one another, or by what is euphemistically referred to as “the juvenile ‘justice’ system.”

The Bee pays grudging homage to the fact that

criminal prosecution should not be a first resort in dealing with teenagers. Immature students, no doubt, will continue to make threats, and most will never carry them out. We ought to be wary of criminalizing emotional turmoil in minors.

However, the Bee complains that

the [court’s] ruling sends the perverse message to adults that it is OK to make threats, so long as you don’t threaten the person to whom you are sending an electronic communication.

And the Bee goes on to claim that “[t]he law itself is flawed and needs fixing” — presumably to ensure we criminalize the emotional turmoil of immature adults.

The fact of the matter is that when we fail to teach our children how to manage hurt, rejection and anger, they will grow up to be adults who do not know how to manage hurt, rejection and anger. And just as “most” children will never carry out their threats, which are really little more than howls of pain, so too will “most” adults never carry out their threats.

Criminalizing emotional turmoil, without there being something more, is wrong regardless of the age of the “criminal.”

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