When news first hit last year of a “crazed” gunman, identified as Anders Behring Breivik, opening fire at a youth camp in Norway, my response was one of horror—and relief. Horror, of course, because of the, well, horror of nearly 70 people—plenty of them children—being murdered at random in a bucolic setting in a peaceable land. But relief because four years prior, my husband and I had decided to use “Anders” as my youngest son’s middle name, instead of his first, as we’d long planned. Although Anders is still one of my favorite names, I was relieved my son wouldn’t bear the name of one of Europe’s most notorious murderers.
Then when news hit of Breivik’s sentencing last week, my response was once again an odd mix of emotion: outrage and something close to rebuke. Outrage that a man could commit such a heinous crime in this day and age—could kill 77 people and wound countless more, could rip loved ones away from families, destroy lives and futures, inflict such mental and physical terror—and still only get 21 years in prison. While I am no death-penalty fan, my American justice sensibilities say a man who kills 77 people needs to be gone, locked away, for forever and a day. My American justice sensibilities tell me I shouldn’t have to wonder if Breivik will be released from prison before my state’s non-mass-murdering former governor is. That said, rebuke gripped me because of those very same American justice sensibilities.
While I won’t apologize or feel bad for my belief that criminals deserve consequences and that mass-murderers deserve severe consequences, the rebuke that settled in came because lately my American justice sensibilities have been alarmed for the opposite reason. Lately these alarms go off when I read stories of “adulteress” women getting stoned to death, when I read of rape victims being shunned from families, and when I read of all-girl punk bands being jailed for offensive lyrics. Lately, my justice-o-meter reacts to justice being ridiculously over-served instead of under-served.