President Obama recently signed a hate crime bill, making it into law. Roughly put, the law makes assaulting a person because of sexual orientation or gender identification a federal offense. It has been claimed that this law will help protect people.
Naturally enough, this raises the question whether such a law will help protect people. Presumably what is meant by “protect” is that the law will deter people from committing such assaults. This, of course, assumes that people who commit such crimes will be aware of the law and that the fear of the law will cause them to not engage in attacks they would otherwise conduct if the law did not exist.
On the one hand, people can be deterred by the threat of punishment-especially when the law is a federal law. People presumably have more fear of federal laws than they do of lesser laws because of the greater power of the federal government. As such, there is reason to believe that the law can deter-especially when a high profile case or two makes the law and its consequences widely known to the sort of folks who would be inclined to attack such people.
On the other hand, assaulting someone is already illegal and punishable by the law. Presumably the people who have been assaulting folks who are now protected by this law were aware of this fact, yet they acted anyway. Also, the sort of folks who would be engaging in hate crimes would seem to be the sort of people who are not rational calculators. That is, it seems unlikely that they weigh out the probabilities and consequences before acting. Presumably if they are committing hate crimes, they are driven by hate and would tend to just act on the basis of this emotion.
Of course, the same can be said of any law. When I was an undergrad, one of my professors pointed out that prisons did not really work as deterrents. After all, if they worked, then they would be empty. Of course, it can be replied that the law (and prisons) do not deter everyone, but they do have some deterrent value. As such, this law might deter those folks inclined towards hate crime who are capable of making rational assessments about punishment. Of course, those folks would probably be deterred by the laws relating to assault.
The law does, of course, provide a way to punish people more severely. While this does not necessarily enhance deterrence, it does give the law more retributive force-and perhaps that is part of the appeal.
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T. J. Babson says
I think the real purpose of these laws is to do an end run around double jeopardy.
Michael LaBossiere says
Could be. Rumor has it that a not uncommon tactic is to pile on as many charges as possible in the hopes that at least something will stick.
Could there be ‘hate’ in a crime without the current hate crime prerequisites?
Pretty difficult to say if hate crimes legislation applied at the individual level is good, bad or indifferent.
I don’t think there’s any doubt, however, that no amount of hate crime legislation would have prevented the killings and torture during the Holocaust, the Rwandan massacres, Stalin’s, Mao’s, Pol Pot’s rule, etc. Those situations were political in nature, to be sure, but it would be very hard to argue that there wasn’t a strong “hate” component in all of them. Ideological hatred is every bit as real as racial hatred.
Once you’re a despot, you can carry out your hatred for a group– black, gay, Hispanic, Tutsi,capitalist, socialist, whatever– en masse instead of having to personally kick each individual to death.
The annihilation of masses is rendered even easier to accomplish when you have thousands if not millions of desperate, airhead, true-believers drooling over your every pronouncement, mentally weakened by their own political, religious, and racial prejudices and prepared to follow your commands without regard to moral limitations.
T. J. Babson says
biomass just made a strong argument that the right to bear arms is actually a human right. It is much harder to commit genocide against an armed population.
Consider:the key rests, I believe, in your words “much harder”. If the “thousands if not millions of airhead true-believers drooling over your every pronouncement, mentally weakened by their own political, religious and racial prejudices [fundamentalist neocons, for example-or atheist, commies]and prepared to follow your commands without regard to moral limitations” are armed to the teeth with every weapon available to man, it may be harder for them to annihilate the opposition but it’s by no means less inevitable.
Meanwhile, the survival of and the quality of life in that society when it’s *not* threatened by the evil described above is altered in many negative ways when no distincition is made between reasonable limitations on firearm sales, ownership, and use and no limitations on sales, ownership, and use whatsoever. In other words, the right to bear arms is a very real right, but it is not currently, and it should, for society’s sake, never be, unconditional.