ifeminists.com: A central gathering place and information center for individualist feminists.   -- explore the new feminism --
introduction | interaction | information

ifeminists.com > introduction > editorials

Was Shooting Judge Weller Justified?
June 21, 2006
by Wendy McElroy, wendy@ifeminists.net

A high-profile news story is sparking discussion of when it is appropriate, if ever, to use violence to secure personal advantage or social change.

The facts of the case are as follows.

On June 12th, Reno businessman Darren Mack allegedly slashed his estranged wife Charla to death. A few hours thereafter, he allegedly shot family court Judge Chuck Weller through a 3rd-floor office window, wounding him in the chest. Warrants against Mack have been issued in both cases and he has already been featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted".

If Mack did shoot Weller, then it was not merely an act of revenge but also an act of strategy aimed at social reform. At least, that's how the accused murderer wishes to portray the shooting -- as one man's blow for justice.

Mack blames Weller for imposing 'unjust' terms in his divorce. That motive is vengeance, pure and personal. But after the shooting, Mack left a message on his cousin's answering machine in which he stated, "If anything happens to me, please make sure that the true story about the injustices that are going on in that courtroom get out to the media and the public." That's strategy and social change. Of course, the two motives are not mutually exclusive.

The "injustices" involve a common and increasingly substantiated complaint: namely, that family courts treat men unfairly in terms of distributing post-marital assets and in child custody.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Mack is 100% correct about the circumstances of his case. Let's assume Weller was clearly prejudiced in favor of Charla and, so, imposed blatantly unjust terms upon Mack.

Would that justify an attempt to kill Weller?

If civil society sanctifies one principle, it is this: the taking of a human life is wrong 'on its face' and requires extraordinary circumstances to be justified and, so, tolerated. I embrace a conventional view of what constitutes justification. Force is appropriate to prevent immediate violence. For example, when someone attacks you in a dark alley, it is appropriate to use reasonable force in self-defense or in the defense of another innocent person. If the level of force results in the attacker's injury or death, then the attacker is both morally and legally responsible for having placed a cycle of violence into motion.

The shooting of Weller cannot be justified by the standards of civil society. Even if you view Mack's divorce settlement as an act of 'violence' against him, killing Weller did not prevent, halt or alter that 'attack'. The court-ordered decree would still be enforced as written; Weller himself did not pose an immediate danger. His death would have not provided immediate relief from violence.

Are there circumstances under which killing someone who is not an immediate threat is tolerable? In a legal sense, I do not believe so. In a moral sense, only two possibilities come to mind as being even debatable.

The first is when an ordinary person snaps under extraordinary pressure and acts 'insanely'. Legally he or she is still guilty of murder but the moral issue is less clear. To be morally culpable, the person must be capable of distinguishing 'right' from 'wrong.'

This insanity-defense is not available with Weller. Mack may have murdered his wife in a fit of passion but to shoot Weller hours later, he had to take a high-powered rifle to the office of a near-by building and wait for an opportunity. Moreover, Mack had 'targeted' Weller for months in a campaign to ruin the judge's reputation. The very fact that Mack -- dubbed the Father's Day fugitive -- has successfully eluded a national man-hunt suggests careful planning. In short, Mack did not snap.

Another circumstance could make open violence into a morally debatable question: when a political regime is so corrupt that non-violent remedies are impossible, then people may take up arms against the regime itself. Certainly, no one would question the propriety of people who rebelled in this manner against Saddam Hussein.

This excuse is not available to Mack either.

Family courts are undergoing a painfully slow but massive shift toward remedying the complaints of fathers. News stories now routinely highlight such travesties against fathers as the dad who paid 11 years of child support for a daughter who died shortly after their forced parting. The presumption of shared custody is gaining popularity in state after state. Indeed, the fact that Mack himself wished to alert the media demonstrates his belief that the system can be reformed through social pressure.

For the past week, I have monitored men's rights and fathers' rights forums for indications that they supported Mack's actions.

When Andrea Yates murdered her five children, the National Organization for Women turned their sympathy for her into a crusade; NOW accused the 'system' of insensitivity to women with post-partum depression. Some voices on the forums I monitored were equally sympathetic to Mack, and callous toward both Charla and Weller. For example, one man wrote, "I consider Mack a hero. I consider the judge evil. If he dies or is permanently disabled that would be a-ok with me."

The overwhelming response, however, has been concern about the impact Mack might have on fathers who have worked long and non-violently on goals such as custody reform.

Murder brings the worst sort of attention to the cause of fathers' rights. It validates critics, reduces public sympathy, obstructs needed reform, and creates a backlash of repression.

Fortunately, unlike NOW who champions murdering moms, the fathers' rights movement sees danger in dads who kill. Danger and genuine sadness.

Copyright © 2006 Wendy McElroy.

ifeminists.com > home | introduction | interaction | information | about

ifeminists.com is edited by Wendy McElroy; it is made possible by support from The Independent Institute and members like you.