Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Should Taxpayers Pay Tech Victims?

I think the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, were horrific. That so many families should lose their children, spouses, siblings or parents all at once is beyond terrible. I can only imagine how I would feel if a disaster like that affected my family. I empathize with all those whose lives will always be partly empty because of the loss of their loved ones.

Yet, I am troubled by the lead article in the Times-Dispatch of July 30, 2007, indicating that Virginia legislators are advocating that the Commonwealth compensate survivors and families of victims for their losses at Tech. These legislators are not advocating that they themselves pay the compensation but that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth pay it. I ask, “Why?”

Life is dangerous. Bad things happen to people. And, when bad things happen, the victims or their survivors want to be compensated. But, should Virginia, or any other state, compensate every victim of a loss?

Over the centuries, the Anglo-American legal system has developed an entire body of tort law to deal with personal loss. Under that system, it is the person who causes the loss, not the state, that is required to compensate the victim for the loss. And, that person is only required to pay compensation when the actions causing the loss were negligent or otherwise wrongful. The devastation of April 16 was caused by Seung-Hui Cho, not by the taxpayers of Virginia.

The shootings at Virginia Tech were not unique in our history. Similar mass-killings have taken place in other schools or buildings in the past. They will continue to occur in the future so long as we hold dear the right of Americans to purchase 9mm semiautomatic handguns and other killing machines. These occasional deaths are the price we pay for the right to bear arms.

Governor Kaine appointed a panel to investigate the events of April 16. That panel has not yet issued its findings. If the findings, when issued, indicate that the negligent or wrongful actions of some officer or employee of the Commonwealth were a contributing cause of the shootings, it would be proper to consider reaching monetary settlements with victims and survivors to obviate the need for expensive and protracted lawsuits. However, to appropriate public funds for compensation, without any showing that the Commonwealth or its officers or employees caused the shootings, would put the taxpayers of Virginia in the position of insurers. Should we take money from other badly needed programs, or increase taxes, to pay for this proposed compensation? I'm not sure.


Anonymous said...

Maybe if we had to pay the victims of every gun crime, we'd rethink that right to bear arms.

P.D.K. said...

I agree. If the state uses our tax money to pay the victims families, where will it end? Unfortunately, there will be other horrific events like the Tech Shootings. Giving state funds would set a precedent for other shootings or catastrophic events.