He’s Suffered Enough!!!

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I have been told that if a man owns a gun and he does not secure it, and his child gets the gun and blows away his other child, that the man has suffered enough, there need be no regulation or law or investigation or charges related to his carelessness. Just let it be. He has suffered enough. His lack of regard for safety should not be punished just because it led to a death, because it makes him feel really really bad. So just drop it.

When I hear this sort of thing, at first, I understand why people say it, but then I rub together two or three brain cells and quickly realize that it is stupid, wrong, and absurd. Oh, and deeply offensive.

I’ve been told that if someone is utterly careless with a deadly weapon, such that an innocent four year old is blown to bits, that the very fact that this horrific thing has happened is somehow sufficient punishment. Often, those individuals making this argument are a) gun nuts and b) sub intelligent. Well, obviously. I suppose we should expect this argument from gun nuts … this sort of argument defines “gun nut.” Gun nuts don’t want people who cause the death of four-year-olds through irresponsible handling of firearms to be held responsible. Why? Because they worry that they themselves may some day accidentally kill a toddler or an infant and they don’t want to be held responsible for that if and when it happens. Perhaps that’s the main reason gun nuts advocate for the “he’s suffered enough” defense. Because they are selfish bastards. Ignorant, thoughtless, selfish bastards.

But still, there may be some people who don’t drool when they talk who might feel that the personal suffering one experiences when one is responsible for the worst possible thing happening to an innocent bystander is sufficient punishment. Let me explain why this is wrong by referring to a different problem, something not involving guns.

And, since gun nuts are so quick to point out that it does not matter if someone dies of a gunshot wound because so many more die people in car accidents, let’s look at car-related injury and death!

We have rules that say that you must properly secure an infant in a car seat. If you don’t, you can be fined. According to the Suffered Enough Defense, therefore, if you fail to properly secure an infant into a car seat, you get a ticket. But if you kill the infant, you get nothing. If you just toss the kid in the back seat, then have a minor fender bender that causes the unsecured infant to smash into your dashboard and break it’s little neck and die, that’s OK. You have suffered enough. Because someone else broke her neck. Because of you.

In fact, not only should you not be held responsible, but maybe you should get a medal. Or perhaps a college fund can be named after you. Or a public building or if you live in the Boston Area, a street corner can be named after you (all the street corners in Boston are named after people or things). Maybe that would make you feel better. Poor baby. You killed a toddler. We’ll bring you a hot dish and say a mass for you.


It is my position that guns should be locked up. Everybody with a brain agrees with this. When someone fails to do so, they should be subject to fines or having their gun owning privileges taken away. When a person dies because the gun was not secure, they should be subject to further penalties or punishment. Just like anything else. We treat everything else that way, but gun nuts want to be treated specially. They want to be able to do whatever they want, and when they screw up and someone dies because of their mistakes, they want the rest of us to feel sorry for them.

Sorry, no.

In case you were looking for a more precise logical argument, if it isn’t already obvious, here it is: Suggesting that the decision to hold someone responsible for an irresponsible act that has damaged another should be based on how the perpetrator of that act feels post hoc, extended more generally, means that the standard for punishment under the law is inverse to the severity of the crime. It is suggesting that the severity of the possible punishment be inverse to the seriousness of the crime because how bad one feels is proportionate to the severity of the crime. I alluded to this above indirectly. If there is a rule that says I must lock up my gun, and I don’t, and a kid gets his hands on it and drops it on his foot and gets a boo-boo, I could be fined, even though I feel bad that this happened. If he fires the gun and receives powder burns on his hand, I feel even worse, so my fine should be reduced. If he blows his sister’s head off I would feel really really bad so I should not even be questioned by the police. Applied to the specific case of gun accidents that arise from careless storage or handling, this makes no sense. Applied to safety regulations or laws designed to protect people from stupid decisions of others … it still makes no sense.

Oh, and if you are a gun nut and you got mad at me for calling you a gun nut or saying something disparaging about your intelligence, you must forgive me. Why? Because I feel really really bad about it. Honest. Really bad. Give me a medal.

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22 thoughts on “He’s Suffered Enough!!!

  1. And this is exactly why I have different terms for “gun enthusiast” and “gun nut”.

    My brother is an enthusiast. He’s got several firearms, he is trained in their use, respects them, and keeps them locked away (beyond even what the law requires) when not in use. He enjoys target practice with them, and enjoys knowing all sorts of details about them, but he respects them, and what they can do.

    Gun nuts, on the other hand, seem to lack the respect for their weapons. It’s guns, guns, guns, always, forever. Guns in your bedroom, guns in your car, guns in your back pocket, front pocket, and in your boot. They dangle the guns around, wave them at people (“but it’s unloaded, I swear!”), and generally lack respect for the weapon and what it can do.

    I agree, the “suffered enough” defense never made any sense to me. I understand that they lost a child, but you can lose a child through drowning in a pool, electrocution, burns from a stove, drinking bleach, falling off a balcony, malnutrition, overheating, suffocation, and so many other ways, and those types of parents are always held to the standard that they let a child in their care die. Negligent gun owner victims are no different.

  2. Indeed. I still recall a case in San Jose, CA, a few years ago, where a father forgot that his toddler son was in the back seat and stopped to visit friends. It was summer, and the toddler died of heat exposure. His friends and family pleaded with the judge: “Please, he’s suffered enough!” The judge didn’t buy it.

    How the $#%&* can you forget your toddler in the back seat?????

  3. It comes across to me as though the child’s only significance is by virtue of their relationship to the parent, as though they were property. Oh, yes, your kid is dead, but he was only important as an offshoot of you, so we’ll just let bygones be bygones, then. Intrinsic value of human life?? What do you think s/he was, a fetus or someone really important?

  4. And when the child is disabled, you can add the ‘oh, but the father/mother was under so much stress! Poor, poor parent, because having a disabled child is the worst thing imaginable, and if the child died through their (maybe) accidental negligence, well, the parent has suffered enough!

    A few years back I was on duty when an 18 month girl was brought to emergency after having drowned in the bath. After the (failed) resuscitation the mother wept that it was so unfair because this was the second child they’d had that had drowned in the bath.

    No prosecution in either case, under the ‘suffered enough’ excuse.

  5. What happens in cases where a child finds & drinks a toxic cleaning product or garden poison that leads to them dying? Presumably that involves criminal charges as well

  6. What happens in cases where a child finds & drinks a toxic cleaning product or garden poison that leads to them dying? Presumably that involves criminal charges as well

    Yes, actually. Have you read the labels on the toxic products in your house? Did you know that it is actually a federal crime to not read the labels? Says so right on the labels.

  7. Well I’m in a different country entirely (we presumably have labels too but I’ve not read those either) and sort of assume that if things are not supposed to be eaten then its probably a good idea to keep them away from people who might eat them without knowing why they shouldn’t.

    Regardless it removes even the hint of that being useable as an “Oh it was just a tragic blameless accident” precedent because some careless wanker left a weapon lying around the house

  8. If he has suffered enough when his child blows away his other child, then hasn’t he also suffered enough when his child blows away someone else’s child, or a cop, or a classroom full of kids? That’s just total bullship.

  9. Where do you live that they hand out medals to people just because they feel bad about something? I wish I lived there, I’d be able to swim in all mine.

    On Topic: Negligence, same as if the kid had gotten into the chemical cabinet.

  10. Indeed. I still recall a case in San Jose, CA, a few years ago, where a father forgot that his toddler son was in the back seat and stopped to visit friends. It was summer, and the toddler died of heat exposure. His friends and family pleaded with the judge: “Please, he’s suffered enough!” The judge didn’t buy it.

    How the $#%&* can you forget your toddler in the back seat?????

    This happens at least three or four dozen times a year in the USA, and it’s actually fairly well understood what the causes are; in the vast majority of cases, the parent really is innocent of anything that can legitimately be called neglect.

    The knee-jerk “How can you possibly forget that” reaction is actively harmful in such cases. It’s arguably a manifestation of the just-world fallacy; people naturally resist the idea that bad things happen to good people.

  11. in the vast majority of cases, the parent really is innocent of anything that can legitimately be called neglect.

    Say what? If you forget your kid in your car, you’re responsible. If the kid is injured or dies, it’s neglect. How can it not be?

  12. @Doug: because the “forgetting” part isn’t preventable; it can literally happen to anyone under the right circumstances. It’s not a matter of “responsibility”, it’s biology.

    The way to prevent it from causing harm is to accept that fact, and set things up so that when (not if) you do forget, there’s something there to immediately remind you. For example, keep a stuffed toy in the car seat at all times except when the kid’s in it, at which point you move the toy to the front seat. Put something you always need on the back seat, so that you always have to look in the back when exiting the car. Make it an ironclad habit to always open the back door and look in when parking the car for any reason under any circumstances, even when you know the kid’s not there. These things will all massively reduce the probability of the kid dying.

    On the other hand, the belief that no responsible person could possibly forget about the kid will make it more likely that you’ll end up killing your own kid this way, because you won’t understand the need for precautions or the right kinds of precautions to take.

    For further info, see kidsandcars.org.

  13. I think that when a kid gets an unsecured gun is quite similar to when a parent forgets to get their kid out of the car on a hot day. Both events happened because of the neglect of the parent, and both can be life threatening and dire situations.

    And both should be punished appropriately. In both cases, the victim is the child. That’s who suffered the most. The only reason that people want to shift guilt in the case of a gun would be because they must think that people have a right to keep guns wherever the fuck they want to keep them. I guess they believe a gun safe and a cookie jar both make great gun holding containers.

  14. I see your point, but even if forgetting is biological, that doesn’t really relieve the parent of responsibility for forgetting a child in a car. Let’s say, for example, that I fall asleep while driving and cause an accident that takes someone’s life. I am still responsible, even though falling asleep is certainly a matter of biology. It’s my responsibility to operate a motor vehicle safely, and if I fail to do so, I’m negligent, period. The The irresponsible act was not falling asleep, it was failing to recognize that my ability to drive was impaired and taking appropriate action. You note in your response a few things that adults can to help them remember their children in a car. I would suggest that failure to use these sorts of techniques is irresponsible and neglectful, especially if it leads to the death or injury of another person. Accidental or unintentional neglect is still neglect.

  15. @Doug: What proportion of parents actually know about the problem? Many of the cases of children forgotten in cars happen to parents who have otherwise been scrupulous about child safety. They simply didn’t know about the risk. Concepts of “responsibility” and “neglect” cannot legitimately be taken to extend to cover dangers that someone doesn’t know about and can’t reasonably be expected to know as a matter of course.

    Knowing that guns (or knives or poisonous chemicals) are dangerous is something we reasonably expect of parents. Knowing that cars are dangerous is something we reasonably expect of drivers. But people are for the most part ignorant of the tricks their own brains can play on them, as can be clearly seen by the responses any time the question comes up; it’s always “how could anyone possibly forget the kid”, never “why didn’t they take the usual precautions”.

  16. This is a case of legal issues vs social issues. Of course the law should apply to everyone equally. It shouldn’t matter if he is suffering or if he got over it in one day, the law applies. Child neglect is child neglect.

    But as far as community response goes, the sheer emotional shock of hearing about the child’s death will be plenty of awareness raising for the message to go around: lock up your guns or this could be you too. No need to also socially ostracize or otherwise punish the man who suffers, only the one who has no repentance.

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