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Responding to Mother Jones

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 31, 2013 01:00 PM

The weekend before last, a 15-year boy allegedly murdered his parents and three siblings at the family home outside of Albuquerque, N.M. Should we add it to the list of recent mass shootings about which all of America is talking? Of course we should, although according to at least one influential news source it shouldn’t be a part of the discussion.

In the ongoing public debate over the causes and solutions to mass shootings, the overwhelming consensus is that mass shootings are on the rise. President Obama mentioned recent deadly rampages while releasing his multi-faceted gun reform proposal. And although former President Bill Clinton may have exaggerated in suggesting that half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the 2005 expiration of the Federal assault weapon ban, many Americans sense that these incidents have become much more frequent.

Of course, perceptions are not always in line with reality, and they are more strongly influenced by recent events than by those that occurred well in the past. Given the widely-publicized and exceptionally dreadful mass shootings in Colorado last summer and in Connecticut last month, it is rather easy to believe that mass murder, particularly those involving firearms, is a growing menace. Yet the growing menace lies more in our fears than in the facts.

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The right time to do the right thing for juvenile murderers

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 27, 2013 12:00 PM

It often comes as a surprise to many folks to learn that Massachusetts, despite its unearned reputation for being soft on crime, is one of the harshest states in the nation when it comes to punishing juvenile murderers. Unlike most states, which allow some flexibility in how to prosecute kids who kill or how long to incarcerate them if convicted, Massachusetts has for the past two decades had only one approach for those as young as 14 charged with first degree murder: prosecution as an adult and a life sentence without parole, if convicted. Efforts in recent years to reform the juvenile murder statute have failed as many of our lawmakers worry about the political fallout from moderating punishments.

At this point, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has determined mandatory life without parole eligibility for juveniles to be unconstitutional, Massachusetts is one of many states that have no choice but to re-examine sentencing policies. The only question will be whether we comply with the Supreme Court mandate minimally be replacing life without parole by extremely long prison terms or we adopt a more enlightened, sensible and flexible approach that reflects the spirit of the Court decision.

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Mass shootings not trending

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 23, 2013 08:00 AM

Last Saturday night, a 15-year boy allegedly murdered his parents and three siblings at the family home outside of Albuquerque, N.M. Should we add it to the list of recent mass shootings about which all of America is talking? Of course we should, although according to at least one influential news source it shouldn’t be a part of the discussion.

In the ongoing public debate over the causes and solutions to mass shootings, the overwhelming consensus is that mass shootings are on the rise. President Obama mentioned recent deadly rampages while releasing his multi-faceted gun reform proposal. And although former President Bill Clinton may have exaggerated in suggesting that half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the 2005 expiration of the Federal assault weapon ban, many Americans sense that these incidents have become much more frequent.

Of course, perceptions are not always in line with reality, and they are more strongly influenced by recent events than by those that occurred well in the past. Given the widely-publicized and exceptionally dreadful mass shootings in Colorado last summer and in Connecticut last month, it is rather easy to believe that mass murder, particularly those involving firearms, is a growing menace. Yet the growing menace lies more in our fears than in the facts.

FULL ENTRY

Back-to-school fears

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 2, 2013 10:30 AM

With the holiday break ending, millions of youngsters will be returning to the classroom. Will they do so fearful that an incident like the Sandy Hook shooting might happen in their school? Will parents worry as they watch their children climb aboard the yellow school bus that they might not return safe and sound at the end of the day?

The recent massacre in Newtown, Conn. has put the issue of school safety center stage in the public and political discourse. Notwithstanding the fact that for school-aged children, the risk of serious violence while at school is significantly lower than at other times and at other places, the enormity of the carnage at the Sandy Hook compels us to think long and hard about school security.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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