Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Personal Responsibility

I don't buy the idea of personal responsibility, at least not in cases where others are involved. If parents brutalize their children, they share in the responsibility of what those kids do. If you support lenient gun policies then you share in the responsibility for the gun violence that follows. If you're a cop and you let a drunk friend play with your gun and he kills himself with it, then you share in that too.

The Miami Herald reports that the Miami-Dade prosecutors didn't see it that way.

Prosecutors have cleared an off-duty Miami-Dade police officer whose high school pal, after a night of drinking and partying together on South Beach, grabbed the officer's gun and fatally shot himself in the head.

Officer Francisco Fernandez's conduct was ''reprehensible'' for allowing his drunk friend, Miguel Angel Martinez, to play around with his loaded Glock pistol on June 16, 2008, prosecutors said in a final memo released Tuesday.

But no crime -- such as manslaughter by culpable negligence -- could be proved because Martinez put the gun in his mouth himself and squeezed the trigger, prosecutors concluded.

Martinez shooting himself was ''an independent act that superseded Fernandez's own conduct, albeit reprehensible,'' Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose J. Arrojo wrote.

Not only do I suspect the police and the courts of failing to do their job, it seems like the Miami Herald is in on it too. The part above which says "he grabbed the officer's gun," doesn't jibe with the chilling video and the other descriptions which indicate Officer Fernandez handed it to him.

The part that really convinced me it's not kosher is this:

No blood alcohol tests were done on Fernandez, who declined to give a statement to investigators. Toxicology reports showed Martinez had been using marijuana and cocaine that night.

I wonder what toxicology reports on Fernandez' blood would have shown.

What I can't understand is the reluctance people have in accepting the theory of shared responsibility. What do they have to lose? I don't accept the argument that it would lend itself to excusing criminal behaviour. I never said it's the parents fault or it's the society's fault. In certain cases, parents and society might share in the responsibility, that's all.

In this case, for me there's no question. Fernandez, through stupidity and negligence contributed to Martinez' death.

The Martinez family attorney, Herman Russomanno, said Fernandez was ''dangerous and reckless'' in pulling his weapon from his holster and allowing a drunk civilian to play with the gun.

''He has exhibited the highest level of gross negligence,'' Russomanno said.

What's your opinion? Do you think Officer Fernandez was negligent? Do you believe in shared responsibility in certain cases?

What about the suicide of Martinez? Drugged and drunk, do you think he was in any condition to make a choice? Would his friend have been wrong to physically stop him, if he'd had the chance?

Please leave a comment.


  1. If he indeed handed his loaded duty weapon to his drunk buddy then yes, you're damn right he's negligent.

    I believe this is one of those exact scenarios I discussed where the gun owner IS in the wrong.

    But hey, he's a cop, what applies to you and I doesn't apply to him.

  2. MikeB,

    You seem to limit your idea of responsibility to the last action a person does...I think that is avoiding the issue.

    The parents who brutalize their children have to take responsibility for their actions...and how those actions effected their children. Including if that child commits a crime.

    But the parents that raised their children right, only to see a child commit a crime also have to take responsibility for their actions. Did they do wrong? No, so their responsibility for their child's actions END at the child's choice to commit a crime.

    You also can't seem to understand the difference between legal liability and moral liability.

    In the case of the police officer, he was liable in the negligent handling of his firearm...but there was no crime because of the age of the person involved.

    If the friend had picked up a kitchen knife and used it to kill himself, would you still hold the other person responsible?

    What I can't understand is the reluctance people have in accepting the theory of shared responsibility. I have a reluctance to accept it because you want me to take responsibility for people I have no influence over, people I have no control over, people I have never met.What do they have to lose?We stand to loose our rights!! If I have responsibility for a crime committed by someone else, I could loose my right to keep and bear arms. That seems to be your ultimate goal. - No other way to reduce availability without reducing the number of firearms.

    You talked about gun owners advocating policies that keep firearms out there, but we don't advocate for murder, armed robbery, assaults. So why should be share in responsibility for those crimes?

    Let's look at it from the drunk driving. You because you own a car and you believe in shared responsibility should be responsible for every drunk driving fatality, right?

    If not, why not?

  3. What I can't understand is the reluctance people have in accepting the theory of shared responsibility. What do they have to lose?

    Simple. We stand to lose our right to keep and bear arms for our protection.

    The largest part of our disagreement seems to come from the fact that you push "preliminary" points like this, but don't (from what very little I've seen) get to the conclusions you're drawing from them.

    If you're right about greater access to guns leading to more tragic deaths (and there's good evidence that it doesn't, mind you), then I could agree with a statement like "gun owners are willing to accept some decrease in safety in order to preserve a freedom that's important to them". But you present these things as "their blood is on your hands!", with the implication that in your opinion, the issue is more than academic.

    So let's just drop the other shoe right now, if you don't mind: what are you getting at? If you think gun owners who reject burdernsome gun restrictions are partially responsible for the actions of others who misuse guns, what do you think are the implications of that responsibility? What obligations do you think that places on gun owners? What restrictions do you think gun owners should accept because of their responsibility?

    I'd also like to play out the car example that others have used here, because I think it might help to disentangle what you're actually saying from any assumptions we might be bringing to the party. A nationwide 20mph speed limit would save thousands of lives a year with much more certainty than would new gun restrictions. If a driver opposed to such a proposition on the basis that it would burden safe drivers, would you consider him to have a "shared responsibility" for traffic deaths in the same way that you think gun owners who oppose burdensome laws do for crime deaths?

  4. Incidentally, this may help illustrate an earlier point: I replied here to the most contentious part of your post, which directly affected me and my rights. That shouldn't be taken to mean that I don't care about the rest of the issue. Fernandez was a negligent douche.

    I think the issue can be very adequately addressed through a personal responsibility framework, though; maybe it should be a crime to give a firearm to a person who's clearly heavily intoxicated.

  5. "maybe it should be a crime to give a firearm to a person who's clearly heavily intoxicated."

    Pretty sure it is. Not sure if an exact statute exists, but in every state that I've read the books for there is a statute that prohibits any person from handling or carrying a firearm while intoxicated (The levels of legal intoxication very greatly, but I think we can all agree this kid was likely over any limet in existance)

    If there isn't a spesific clause, it could easily be prosicuted (and should to create a precident) that this was furnishing a firearm to a prohibited person.

    I think the big issue here needs to be shifted in scope. Not why law-abiding gun owners shouldn't pay some price for this, but why is a police officer paying NOTHING?

    But again this isn't an accountability issue, it's a series of individual crimes committed.

  6. This story is an example of a lack of personal responsibility by the cop. I agree that it doesn't rise to the level of a criminal act, but it does show a lack of judgment sufficient to remove him from the police force.

    No blood tests is likely a case of the cops protecting their own. (and consider that attitude when you see that license holders are convicted of fewer crimes than cops...The few we commit will be prosecuted with a lot more thoroughness than most police misconduct)

    There are cases of shared responsibility, this could be considered one of them.

    Where do you draw the line? Men commit more crimes than women--do I share responsibility as a man, even though I'm doing all I can to remain law-abiding? You can't be truly responsible without the ability to affect the outcome.

  7. If a woman is pregnant and wants an abortion, but the father wants to keep the baby, should there be shared responsibility?

  8. Michael, The following exchange leaves me wondering.

    I said, "What I can't understand is the reluctance people have in accepting the theory of shared responsibility. What do they have to lose?"You answered, "Simple. We stand to lose our right to keep and bear arms for our protection."

    Usually what you say makes sense to me but not this time.

    My idea is the only thing you would have to lose is the world view that everything is black and white, which I didn't think you bought into. You'd also have to let go of the us against them mentality - us good guys and them bad guys. The grey area is enormous between these two categories. My way, you'd bring compassion, understanding, empathy and sometimes even forgiveness into the picture.

    Maybe you misunderstood what I was talking about, but I don't see how it gets back to your giving up rights, certainly not gun rights.

  9. WW Paul said, "If a woman is pregnant and wants an abortion, but the father wants to keep the baby, should there be shared responsibility?"I say if a woman wants to have an abortion, that's the end of the story right there. It's the woman's decision 100%.

    Thanks for the comment, by the way.

  10. I think we're both misunderstanding each other. :)

    Let me see if I can bullet-point it and be clearer:

    - I'm personally hashing out the "shared responsibility" idea right now, and don't have a firm opinion on it.

    - In this precise context, "don't you think gun owners share some responsibility for murders" seems like a lead-in to "then since the blood of the victims is on your hands, shouldn't you accept X?" I think this creates an environment where gun owners are anxious about general "don't you think shared responsibility is a reasonable concept?" questions. This was what I meant by the comment you posted; this was obviously much less clear than I'd meant it to be.

    - I don't really think the world is made up of good guys and bad guys (I'll still occasionally use the terms as shorthand when it seems clear what we're talking about). People are complex, the law-abiding citizen can make mistakes, and the vicious killer can have an understandable motive. The only "them" I'm against is a specific person who actively tries to hurt me or my family (and at that point, his fine motives have to be part of a separate assessment).

    - My circle of friends includes some people who've made big mistakes in their pasts. To give the most extreme example, I'm on the visitor list for a guy who's currently in federal prison for distributing child pornography. I know from direct personal experience that people can choose to change their lives and make themselves what they want to be. I'm no stranger to forgiveness and second chances (or third, or fourth, or fifth chances--I owe _my_ friends a lot for giving me those chances as I learned how to be a good person myself).

    - To me, though, this feels like the _opposite_ of shared responsibility. It's the assumption that a man can choose his own way, that he isn't a slave to his origin and environment, that he stands by his own choices and can make himself into the person he wants to be regardless of where he comes from.

    Y'know what? I think I'll let my good friend Bill explain this one, since he always says these things so much better than I do:

    "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions."

    - With regard to shared responsibility, I suspect the two viewpoints may be talking about much closer positions than is clear from this discussion. We all seem to agree that Roger is irresponsible if he hands a loaded gun to George when he knows George is drunk, and think there should be consequences for Roger. Many of us, though, don't think that Jack should face any consequences if Chuck steals his idling car and kills somebody with it. It seems like we may all be talking about the same thing, but disagreeing on the extent to which A can be reasonably required to anticipate B's actions. You're thinking of this in terms of A's shared responsibility for B's actions, and the "other side" is thinking in terms of A's personal responsibility for his actions which contributed to a situation in which B took actions he's personally responsible for...

    Like I said, I'm mentally hashing this out for myself. I'm not yet clear on how much of the difference is just semantics.

  11. "I say if a woman wants to have an abortion, that's the end of the story right there. It's the woman's decision 100%. "

    Very consistant, Mike.

  12. "It seems like we may all be talking about the same thing, but disagreeing on the extent to which A can be reasonably required to anticipate B's actions."Bingo! I think we ALL agree that there IS such a thing as "shared responsibility. If you hand someone you know to be smashed your car keys then you share responsibility for his actions, ditto if you hand someone a loaded gun. (I guarantee you it's a crime in pretty much any state to hand a deadly weapon to someone who's clearly under the influence.)

    Where we differ is on when this responsibility ends. What it comes down to is whether a "reasonable person" could have expected their actions (act A) to directly cause / influence the other persons criminal action (act B)

    For example. You have a 19 year old son. You keep your liquor under lock & key, but your underage son breaks the lock to gain access to your booze. If he later kills someone in a DUI do you share criminal responsibility for that action? of course not.

    It's the same with guns. If the criminal who later uses my gun in a crime has to commit a felony in order to access & steal my guns then I have NO responsibility for his later actions with said gun.

    My responsibility ends with his CHOICE to commit crime(s) against me and steal my property.

  13. William Shakespeare, who I usually find has already said anyhting I'm trying to say about human nature.

    I assumed a Google search would turn up the reference pretty easily, but I guess there are too many common words there.

  14. I'm a friend of Miguel's and stumbled across your site in attempting to find an update and answers on his tragic death. What chilling video and descriptions are you referring to? I haven't been able to find any information and would really appreciate any more insight and information you might have. Thanks.

  15. I think the Miami Herald link originally contained a video. It seems not to work now, perhaps it's too old.

    Sorry about your friend.