Bear with me.
One of the early lessons learned in law school related to the issue of causation and intent. We were introduced to this question through Scott v Shepard, an English decision from 1773. Yes, 1773. The decision known as the Famous Squib [firecracker]. Flying Squib, or Lighted Squib case was the subject of extended discussion and debate. Among its many lessons is the principle that intentionally doing an act with known or predictable consequences means that you intended those consequences, caused those consequences and are legally accountable for them.
Here, for your edification, is a published summary of the case:
The defendant threw a squib, which is a small, lit firework, into a busy marketplace with lots of people and stalls. In order to protect themselves and avoid damage, the squib was thrown on by two other people. When it landed near to the complainant, it exploded and caused injury to his face. He later lost the use of one of his eyes. The original thrower, the defendant, was charged with assault and trespass.
The defendant was found liable for trespass and he appealed this decision. The defendant argued that the injury to the complainant was not caused by his actions; it was not a direct act, as others threw the squib on. The issue in the appeal was whether the defendant throwing the squib caused the injury or whether other people broke this chain of causation and the injury was caused by novus actus interveniens.
The court dismissed the appeal; the injury to the complainant was the direct and unlawful act of the defendant who originally threw and intended to throw the squib. The other people were not ‘free agents’ in this situation and threw on the squib for their own safety and this was justifiable. The throwing on was classed as a continuation of the defendant’s action, which was intended. Whatever followed this was part of the defendant’s original act. [https://bit.ly/3xfYZJL]
The class discussion of this case was a shock, an early admission to the inner sanctum of legal reasoning. This simple case introduced us to the complexity of the seemingly obvious, the intricacies of causation, intent and other themes that run through the law.
One principle we took away was this: if you take an action knowing the likely consequences, you will be presumed to have intended those consequences. It’s the same principle that underlies the limit on freedom of speech with which most rational people are familiar: you can’t shout “fire” in a darkened theater and disclaim responsibility for injuries resulting from the panic that ensues. It’s ultimately why you can’t drink yourself into a stupor, drive a car, have an accident, and deny responsibility for the results. The principle is fundamental.
So what? This. Republicans in Congress have consistently refused to consider any gun regulations, no matter how limited, claiming Second Amendment privileges. The result is the massacre of school children in Uvalde, TX and all the others that preceded it and that will inevitably follow it. The refusal to change the law, knowing what will result, means that the legislators who refuse to act must intend the resulting carnage. It means they are content with the hundreds and thousands of deaths and injuries that could be prevented or at least reduced. There are no excuses.
There was a hearing in the House on gun regulation a few days ago. The following is the entire testimony of Dr. Roy Guerrero. It is not easy to read but it is important. If you know someone who believes gun regulation is unnecessary, consider sending this to them:
“My name is Dr. Roy Guerrero. I am a board-certified pediatrician, and I was present at Uvalde Memorial Hospital the day of the massacre on May 24th, 2022, at Robb Elementary School. I was called here today as a witness. But I showed up because I am a doctor.
Because how many years ago I swore an oath — An oath to do no harm.
After witnessing first-hand the carnage in my hometown of Uvalde, to stay silent would have betrayed that oath. Inaction is harm. Passivity is harm. Delay is harm. So here I am.
Not to plead, not to beg or to convince you of anything. But to do my job. And hope that by doing so it inspires the members of this House to do theirs.
I have lived in Uvalde my whole life. In fact, I attended Robb Elementary School myself as a kid. As often is the case with us grownups, we remember a lot of the good and not so much of the bad. So, I don’t recall homework or spelling bees, I remember how much I loved going to school and what a joyful time it was. Back then we were able to run between classrooms with ease to visit our friends. And I remember the way the cafeteria smelled lunchtime on Hamburger Thursdays.
It was right around lunchtime on a Tuesday that a gunman entered the school through the main door without restriction, massacred 19 students and two teachers and changed the way every student at Robb and their families will remember that school, forever.
I doubt they’ll remember the smell of the cafeteria or the laughter ringing in the hallways. Instead, they’ll be haunted by the memory of screams and bloodshed, panic, and chaos. Police shouting, parents wailing. I know I will never forget what I saw that day.
For me, that day started like any typical Tuesday at our Pediatric clinic – moms calling for coughs, boogers, sports physicals – right before the summer rush. School was out in two days then summer camps would guarantee some grazes and ankle sprains. Injuries that could be patched up and fixed with a Mickey Mouse sticker as a reward.
Then at 12:30 business as usual stopped and with it my heart. A colleague from a San Antonio trauma center texted me a message: ‘Why are the pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists on call for a mass shooting in Uvalde?’
I raced to the hospital to find parents outside yelling children’s names in desperation and sobbing as they begged for any news related to their child. Those mother’s cries I will never get out of my head.
As I entered the chaos of the ER, the first casualty I came across was Miah Cerrillo. She was sitting in the hallway. Her face was still, still clearly in shock, but her whole body was shaking from the adrenaline coursing through it. The white Lilo and Stitch shirt she wore was covered in blood and her shoulder was bleeding from a shrapnel injury.
Sweet Miah. I’ve known her my whole life. As a baby she survived major liver surgeries against all odds. And once again she’s here. As a survivor.
Inspiring us with her story today and her bravery.
When I saw Miah sitting there, I remembered having seen her parents outside. So, after quickly examining two other patients of mine in the hallway with minor injuries, I raced outside to let them know Miah was alive.
I wasn’t ready for their next urgent and desperate question: ‘Where’s Elena?’
Elena, is Miah’s 8-year-old sister who was also at Robb at the time of the shooting. I had heard from some nurses that there were “two dead children” who had been moved to the surgical area of the hospital. As I made my way there, I prayed that I wouldn’t find her.
I didn’t find Elena, but what I did find was something no prayer will ever relieve.
Two children, whose bodies had been so pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been so ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities was the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them. Clinging for life and finding none.
I could only hope these two bodies were a tragic exception to the list of survivors.
But as I waited there with my fellow Uvalde doctors, nurses, first responders and hospital staff for other casualties we hoped to save, they never arrived. All that remained was the bodies of 17 more children and the two teachers who cared for them, who dedicated their careers to nurturing and respecting the awesome potential of every single one. Just as we doctors do.
I’ll tell you why I became a pediatrician. Because I knew that children were the best patients. They accept the situation as it’s explained to them. You don’t have to coax them into changing their lifestyles in order to get better or plead them to modify their behavior as you do with adults.
No matter how hard you try to help an adult, their path to healing is always determined by how willing they are to take action. Adults are stubborn. We’re resistant to change even when the change will make things better for ourselves. But especially when we think we’re immune to the fallout.
Why else would there have been such little progress made in Congress to stop gun violence? Innocent children all over the country today are dead because laws and policy allows people to buy weapons before they’re legally even old enough to buy a pack of beer. They are dead because restrictions have been allowed to lapse. They’re dead because there are no rules about where guns are kept. Because no one is paying attention to who is buying them.
The thing I can’t figure out is whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness, passivity, or both.
I said before that as grown-ups we have a convenient habit of remembering the good and forgetting the bad. Never more so than when it comes to our guns. Once the blood is rinsed away from the bodies of our loved ones and scrubbed off the floors or the schools and supermarkets and churches, the carnage from each scene is erased from our collective conscience and we return once again to nostalgia.
To the rose-tinted view of our second amendment as a perfect instrument of American life, no matter how many lives are lost.
I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children. Keeping them safe from preventable diseases I can do. Keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders.
In this case, you are the doctors, and our country is the patient. We are lying on the operating table, riddled with bullets like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there.
My oath as a doctor means that I signed up to save lives. I do my job. And I guess it turns out that I am here to plead. To beg. To please, please do yours.”
– Dr. Roy Guerrero, Pediatrician, Uvalde, TX
Nothing left to say.