Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
For years, victims’ rights groups and advocates have been given free rein to repeatedly tell their stories, push through rarely questioned state and federal legislation, and receive unlimited media attention.
Crime victims lead the charge in mandatory minimum sentences, stripping judges and juries of the ability to implement punishments based on the facts and circumstances of individual cases. They have lowered the threshold of defining what is a crime, assisted in making the standards of guilt easier, increased and expanded punishments, and approved of prosecutors holding all the cards when it comes to piling on charges.
I’ve watched for the last five Virginia General Assembly sessions and four Virginia State Crime Commission seasons as victims are given 20 to 30 minutes to tell their stories and plead for increasing and encroaching new laws. Victims and their advocates are given the full attention of lawmakers and carte blanche to stray off topic. Everyday citizens, volunteer advocates not representing crime victims and civil and human rights representatives are ignored, belittled and cut off after three minutes of speaking and shamed for their stance. Or they are followed by a lawmaker’s personal opinions hyped to instill hysteria.
Lawmakers and staff members pose for pictures with victims and advocates, and if a former or current celebrity or athlete is an invited speaker for such a group, he is paraded through the General Assembly building like a rock star. The lawmakers post these photos on their websites and list the tally of victim-supporting legislation they’ve sponsored in their campaign commercials and brochures.
Some of the most popular victim advocates who’ve made this a second career are John Walsh, Patty Wetterling, Mark Lunsford, Maureen and Richard Kanka, Marc and Eve Klaas, Ed Smart, Elizabeth Smart, Brent and Kelly King and Alicia Kozakiewicz. This has gone on for years.
When it comes to sexual crimes, lawmakers had no issues and participated wholeheartedly in allowing these parents and victims to promote harsher legislation based on fear, hate and vengeance instead of on data-proven results. Almost every law promoted by these people is offered with the claim that it would have saved their loved one or “if it saves one child . . . .” That was good enough for the lawmakers and for the public.
So I find it ironic that media folks are crying foul about the Sandy Hook parents being used as pawns, backdrops and distractions; that it’s deceptive, a despicable political strategy and exploitation of a tragedy. But when the issue isn’t about gun ownership, background checks or magazine sizes, parading grieving parents and victims before the cameras, getting them to lobby and even attaching their names to a bill has been acceptable for the last 15 years.
I don’t believe victims or victims groups ever should have been given a seat at the table when it comes to criminal or civil legislation or sentencing guidelines. Constituents’ opinions should matter as long as they aren’t being driven by personal anger, fear or myth.
It takes careful consideration and actually listening to experts in a specific field to write sound and effective legislation. Sadly, this was not the path when sex offender laws and registries were implemented; no one had the guts to stop the speeding train of victims groups and the well-known parents who demanded more laws and less freedom under the guise of public safety.
I’m not saying whether I do or do not support additional gun control; that’s not the issue. The issue is that before December 2012, the majority of Americans and lawmakers happily used victims when it came to writing and passing laws. Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, a large number of Americans are side-stepping their past stance and crying foul only because this issue affects them directly.
Readers may want to reflect on past issues when they favored violating another’s civil, political or human rights because a victims group claimed it was for the better good of society, and they believed them. After all, it wasn’t going to affect them, so why give it careful consideration, let alone a second thought?
Weather JournalRain is here; no snow