February 24th, 2009
01:28 PM ET

Children capable of murder

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Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Jordan Brown, an 11-year old from Pennsylvania, is accused of planning and killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend while she slept. Months ago, an 8-year-old boy shot and killed his father and a tenant in their home.

The idea that a child could actually murder is terrifying and, thankfully, rare. However, children have intense emotions like jealousy and rage…just as adults do. What they don’t have is a fully-developed superego (a moral compass), nor the full understanding of the permanence of death and the consequences of murder.

What makes matters worse is that certain children grow up with access to guns. Some are even taught how to shoot. They do not have the same fear of weapons as children who have never been exposed to guns – and warned of their danger- often have.

It’s a frightening combination: comfort with a weapon, lack of a developed moral filter and intense emotions of jealousy.

Blended families are more common than ever now. Yet there are a lot of difficulties in the adjustment: rivalry with half-siblings, feelings of hurt that a parent now loves another and trying to accept that your own two parents will never get back together. These feelings are pretty par for the course, but they must be handled and discussed. Sometimes outside help is also necessary. Left to fester, these feelings can evolve into depression, deep anxiety and broiling anger.

It is not unusual for a child to wish that the new step-parent would disappear and the ‘old life’ would return. Most children hope for parents to reunite, but marriage to another seals the deal that this will not come to pass.

In Brown’s case, his father and stepmother were also expecting a new child. A new baby in the family can often lead to fears of being replaced. Children in these situations need help. They need to talk. They need adults to listen. They need to be understood.

Jealousy is a powerful emotion. Left unchecked, it has resulted in adults murdering other adults. What adults have to understand now is that kids have equally intense feelings, and they need even more help managing them. And, of course, kids should never have access to guns.

Filed under: Gail Saltz • Gun Control • Gun Violence
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Vicky, Ottawa

    Seems like discussion is focused on guns alone. I don't think guns should be anywhere around children and they should certainly be locked away when there are children in the home. However, another issue is the attention given after a crime has been committed, and the push to deal with the child as an adult, and move them to adult court. As you so eloquently noted, children are still developing, have different thinking abilities than adults, and are still developing skills in dealing with strong emotions. If we spent the money required to help children and families, and prevent tragedies such as this, it would be less expensive in the long-run than to pay for costs associated in the legal system. More importantly, these children could get the treatment and assistance they need.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:42 pm |
  2. GF, Los Angeles

    This kid needs to be locked up forever. He's a pre-mediated killer. I don't care about the way he felt towards his dad's gf and the new baby – that is no excuse for what he did. We all have jealous feelings but it doesn't make it right to kill regardless of age.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:31 pm |
  3. DT

    Dave S said: "There’ll always be people whose ideas of “normal” aren’t quite the same as the rest of us."

    Social norms and personal norms are different. Socially there shouldn't be civilians walking around with weapons or having them in their homes. There (as such is the case in this latest tragedy) shouldn't be Junior Guns, just for kids. That was the murder weapon. If we elimate this, then maybe we can save the life. Get rid of guns first, then if kids start hitting people over the head with frying pans we'll tackle that next, but there is no RATIONALE for guns. Sorry, no.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm |
  4. Neo

    Said this yesterday almost verbatim. Glad there is consensus within my field. Having guns in the homes is and always will be socially reprehensible. How soon we all forget what it was to be at 11 as well. Shocked at the initial comments to this yesterday. TY AC360 for presenting a professional analysis of the situation.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm |
  5. xtina, chicago IL

    the government can't take away citizens' right to have firepower. why not make the penalty and punishment severe, since lawyers can get most gun crime offenders off so easily. make the punishment fit the crime.

    if these people had faith, family and responsibility instead of chaos and broken marriage in their home, then kids wouldn't be as likely to get violent.

    February 24, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  6. April

    In these circumstances, the children obviously have issues. Parents need to be more on top of their game and expect the unexpected. I am a single mother of three and while it is a difficult society to live in, a parent has to pay attention to their children. A parent should be able to tell when their child is tormented and should reach out and help them. I see it far too often, children being neglected and ignored. It is a sad day when a child is capable of murder. I have a wonderful relationship with all of my children and although I can't always be there, I am there. They know they can talk to me about anything, good or bad. I may not be happy about some things, but I am damn sure there to listen and assist. And sometimes, a parent has to take the time to figure their children out and know when they are hurting.

    February 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  7. Mari, Salt Lake City

    Yes, many people grew up with weapons, fine. BUT....... there are enough tragedies of kids killing because a gun was available to cause me to be against guns given to children!

    Unfortunately, not everyone is a responsible gun owner! Nor a responsible parent. What makes a child so angry that he/she kills?

    There needs to be laws that demand people lock their weapons away from children! If there are such laws they need to be enforced. Before you buy a gun, you must prove that you have a way to secure the weapon.

    February 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm |
  8. michael laughlin

    Get some facts for me CNN–How many kids who hunt or have been trained to hunt related to gun crimes in the united states? How many kids who have not hunted or been trained to hunt related to gun crimes in the united states?

    February 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  9. Dave S, Tinley Park, IL

    There'll always be people whose ideas of "normal" aren't quite the same as the rest of us. If it wasn't a gun, it could've been a knife, baseball bat, frying pan, etc. Don't blame tv, movies, music, or video games–loose screws are everywhere. When are we going to face the fact that some folks "just aren't right" in the head? Heck–we've pretty much all known someone growing up that was just 'different'. We'll never stop it –and I mean never! (and I'm not pro-gun–I don't care either way)

    February 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm |
  10. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    I was born and raised with a weapon, just like many childern today. I had respect for the weapon and realized that the weapon will perform only in the hands of the "user." It is not the weapon that terminates life-–but rather the user. If you raise and nuture a child with morals and values (something that the current society has loss)--they will respect the weapon just as much as they respect "life."

    February 24, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  11. Edmo

    No kidding, Linda. I don't know if you read the article, but the person "using the tool" in these cases is a kid. This isn't about gun rights. It's about making sure guns aren't ending up in kids' hands and that they're being told the consequences of using guns in anger. Please, no pro-gun propaganda.

    February 24, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  12. Linda Lawrence

    On the subject of guns: Their are about 80 million guns in the usa, about 1500 people die each year from gun-shot wounds.

    Their are about 800,000 doctors in the USA, about 150,000 people die each year from mal-practice. Doctors are far more dangerous than guns.

    May have to do with the person using the tool,in both cases.

    February 24, 2009 at 1:36 pm |