Sometimes you just think there ought to be a law. In the case of William Spengler Jr., who killed two firefighters and wounded two others on Christmas Eve in Webster, N.Y., there was a law, in fact several of them ("Firefighters killed in ambush at N.Y. blaze," Dec. 25).
In 1980, Mr. Spengler killed his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer. Killing people with hammers has always been illegal in New York, and in 1980, it carried the possibility of a death sentence. Mr. Spengler didn't get the death penalty, though. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a prison term. He was paroled in 1998.
But it was OK. That same year, a new law was enacted to protect society. Popularly called Jenna's Law, it required even first-time violent offenders to serve at least six-sevenths of their sentence before they could be considered for parole. It also provided for supervision by the Parole Department after parole was granted.
Mr. Spengler's supervision ended in 2006 and he returned to society a free man. But it was OK. His neighbors could sleep safe in their beds because there was another law to protect them. As a convicted felon, Mr. Spengler was forbidden to possess any firearms, not even a target gun. Yet on Dec. 24, he went on a rampage setting fires in a small community then using several different weapons to kill and wound first-responders to the blaze.
The good faith of the people who have dealt with Mr. Spengler and others like him over the last 30 years cannot be doubted. Courts and prosecutors work hard to enforce our laws; police and parole officials work long hours to protect society; and legislators struggle to create a magic law that will make crimes like Mr. Spengler's a thing of the past.
Yet the sad truth is that this approach to the problem has consistently failed. Even the death penalty can only be counted on to prevent recidivism.
Letter writer Art Rosenbaum recently assessed the isolation and disconnectedness that are the underlying causes of outbursts like Mr. Spengler's ("Mass shootings sign of a society in crisis," Dec. 27). Identifying those who constitute a risk to society and addressing their issues, though not as easy as many of the legislative proposals now being proposed, offers the only real hope of preventing such tragedies.
Still, in the aftermath of the Spengler case and many others that have preceded it, the cry goes out for more quick-fix legislation. There ought to be a law. Maybe these voices are right. Maybe we ought to ban hammers.
Christian Wilson, Bel AirCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun