An Attack on the Rule of Law Itself

The justice system itself was under attack in Texas.

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A Kaufman County Sheriff's deputy walks near the taped-off property of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, near Forney, Texas, on Sunday, March 31, 2013. On Saturday, McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were murdered in their home.

Should we be more upset that a Texas prosecutor was gunned down and killed than we are over the shooting death of someone less prominent?

The American-style egalitarian answer should be no. If all human lives are equally precious, why is the murder of a prosecutor more newsworthy? What about the more anonymous victims—those who don't have powerful jobs, might come from poor or minority neighborhoods, and weren't killed as part of some newsworthy shooting spree? Are their lives less important?

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

The shooting deaths of anyone are tragic. But the killings of Kaufman County district attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia McLelland are indeed disturbing on another level. The motive for the shootings has not been determined, but investigators do not think it was a random act. An assistant DA in Kaufman County was killed a couple of months ago in a parking lot not far from the courthouse. Colorado's prison chief was shot to death weeks ago outside his own front door, apparently by an ex-convict.

There is a pattern here, even if the shooters were different. The killings were all an attack not just on the people, but on the rule of law itself, and on our system of jurisprudence. If it becomes too unsafe to prosecute criminals and watch over them in prison, who will do the job? And if no one will do so, it really will be the criminals in charge.

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A notable element to the McLelland killings is the presence of a gun—not just one gun, but at least two. Weeks before he was killed, McLelland gave an interview in which he said he carried a gun everywhere for protection. Clearly, that did not save his life.

The media frequently makes distinctions of whose life is more newsworthy in death. It has been accurately charged that cable TV is far more concerned about the disappearance or murder of a pretty white girl than someone poor and less attractive. Newspapers seem particularly fascinated with the rare case of a woman killing her child or children, while the far more common sort of family murder—men killing their wives or children or both—tends to occupy about a paragraph inside the paper.

Ideally, we would give the same level of attention and  mourning to all gun victims. But in the case of the McLellands, a second assault—one on our very system of law and order—has been made. And that is an equal tragedy.

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