Thursday, October 18, 2018

Killing thieves

Is theft worth a death penalty?

I bring this up because it's related to my newspaper column from yesterday.

The only legitimate death penalty is carried out at the scene of the attack by the victim or a rescuer. Anything later-- including anything done by government employees-- is revenge. And murder.

Back in the old days, horse theft was a capital offense. However, unless they shot the guy in the act, it was murder (ethically, if not "legally"). For example, if they "strung him up" later.

The reason horse theft was treated so seriously was that horses were essential. Horses were a matter of life and death. You lose your horse and you may die because of it. Today cars take the place of horses for most Americans.

I think you are completely within your rights to shoot a car thief to stop your car from being stolen, even if "the law" disagrees. Probably not right to chase down a guy you know to be a car thief and hang him.

If it's a kid stealing candy from a store, then I wouldn't be in favor of shooting him. Same with a starving man in the wilderness stealing food from a cabin-- as long as he doesn't do unnecessary damage and tries to pay restitution.

But then, I'll never grieve a dead thief no matter what he steals, and not even if I consider his death to have been murder. I can separate my feelings from what I think is right.

I've said it before and I'll say it again-- I don't really believe in proportionality very strongly. I'll say more about that in tomorrow's post.

But maybe I'm just overly emotional about thieves at the moment.

Just a few weeks ago my mom's last remaining uncle-- the last of that generation of the family, at 94 years old-- had everything stolen from his house. Everything. Inside and outside. He has been living with his daughter since his wife died and only going out to his house once a week or so to check on things. Someone knew and used the opportunity to clean him out. Would I have shot the thief had I caught him in the act?

Fortunately for my mom's uncle, upon finding out about the theft, his granddaughter decided to cruise through a trashy part of town along the main road from his house. Over a fence as she drove along, she recognized her grandfather's pickup. Looking over the fence, she also saw his lawnmower and other stuff. She called the cops and they all went inside and found all his possessions (along with a lot of other people's stuff, too). They didn't find anyone there, but they took all the surveillance cameras (he had many of them watching every bit of his property) and got video of the thief bringing the stolen items to the house (not the sharpest guy, apparently). The cops know who the guy is, and said he's on probation. Do you think I would be sad if someone killed this guy, whether or not it was defense? As long as he lives, he's going to be a thief. He needs to be dead.

But, would it be right to kill him? Not unless he's caught in the act, and some would say, not for "only stealing". I suppose there's room for debate.

Reminder: I could sure use some help.

This blog is my job.
YOU get to decide if I get paid.


  1. "Probably not right to chase down a guy you know to be a car thief and hang him."

    I think you're rightful in using necessary force to retrieve your property. Like, say if you finally found your property, but the thief refuses to cooperate, refuses to return it. Take it back anyway, by force if necessary.

    That isn't revenge or murder, but defense of property.

    1. I agree. I was mostly talking about doing that absent a "hot pursuit". Like he's nowhere near your car-- maybe you already got it back-- and you are just going to get the guy you know (or suspect) did it.

      Like I say, I'm conflicted on this. I want every thief to die, but I realize it's not always right to kill them.

    2. So you're basically saying revenge killing is wrong?

      I generally agree, but I think that it's warranted in some cases.

    3. I believe revenge is always wrong, and have said so repeatedly in this blog. I understand the desire for it (and have felt it myself), but I still think it's wrong. It's why I oppose punishment and prefer justice and restitution.

      But killing someone in the act of archation is defense, not revenge. It's not even justice-- it makes justice unnecessary.

    4. Do you remember those guys in Connecticut who invaded a home, beat the man of the house with a baseball bat, tied everyone up, raped the mom and 11 year old girl, then set the house on fire, killing everyone but the dad?

      That is a good example of when revenge is just. They should have given unconditional custody of the perps to the husband/father.

    5. Hard though it is when recalling that CT case, revenge is never just. It does nothing for anyone.

      Justice is about the restoration of lost rights; period. I see no possibility of obtaining it while government survives. When it's vanished, the justice market will work well, awarding compensation at the perp's expense and in a very rare case, confining him while he earns a living. A key element, I think, will be that his deeds (including his responses to a court order) will be available for anyone to see - eg on the Net.

      Should he be a particularly vicious aggressor who refuses to do as ordered by a court, the facts will be public and few if any will have any dealings with him so he will likely starve to death. But that's suicide, not murder.

    6. Criminals so heinous deserve no consideration. If for nothing else, off them to make the family and community feel better. Killing them leaves absolutely no chance they will ever do anything again, or even influence reality any longer. It is definitive closure.

      But there must be no mistake about their guilt.

    7. "Feeling better" doesn't seem to me a good reason to kill someone. In fact, if it were, there might be quite a massacre.

      Again, consider what "justice" means. Don't you agree that it is about the restoration (to the extent feasible) of rights that have been lost or stolen? Despite the bloodthirsty viciousness of parts of the Old Testament which have affected our culture, it really is not at all about vengeance.

      And even there, it says “'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."

    8. Why can't revenge also be justice, restitution?

      You invest your whole life into your family and legacy, generations of security you hope to provide, your property, pursuit of happiness, etc., your rightful life and entire existence.

      ...then someone comes along, beats you, ties you up, ties your family up, rapes your wife and little girl, then burns the house down with them all tied to beds, killing everyone, traumatizing you for life.

      They wrecked your life. You own them, their lives, and anything they have. They are your property to do with as you please.

  2. so much for ever being selected for jury duty !

    they don't accept folks with reasoned opinions

    1. I doubt this would be the straw to break that particular camel's back.