The Connecticut State Senate will consider a bill barring the "knockout game" that passed the state's Assembly partly on the strength of its sponsors' rationale: he has no idea how many such attacks there have been, but there has been "one too many."
We'll get into the specifics of the bill in a second. But first, let's assess the argument from Democratic State Rep. Joe Verrengia, as reported by CTNewsJunkie.
“I tried to wrap my arms around it, I tried to get statistics, but it’s very difficult to do so by virtue of the present reporting requirements by various law enforcement agencies,” he said. “. . . I think if you were to ask [victims] how many assaults have there been throughout the state of Connecticut, they would say, ‘One too many.’”
By that standard — a bad thing happening even once — the following things should similarly prompt special legislation in the state.
- People climbing Christmas trees.
- Stealing "for sale" signs.
- Driving while under the influence of hand sanitizer.
- Complaining to the police about your sandwich.
All of those things happened at least once in Connecticut and resulted in an arrest; Rep. Verrengia can expect a busy legislative year. (Note: God bless the Huffington Post for its "Weird Connecticut" tag.)
In his breathless scouring of the statistics, we will assume that Verrengia found at least one example of the knockout game that fits his definition of the crime. Fine. So what does his law say, a law that passed the State Assembly and is on its way to the Senate?
You can read it here, if you'd like, but the summary is this. The knockout game bill bumps an assault up to the second-degree when it intends to "cause serious physical injury to another person by rendering such other person unconscious" and "causes such injury to such other person by striking such other person in the head." And people who are 16 or 17 and who perform these acts would be tried as adults.
For analysis, let us turn to Gideon, a public defender and blogger in the state, who I know in the way one knows people on Twitter. "[Y]ou will now be subjected to a harsher penalty for one knockout punch than you would be if you took a baseball bat and beat the crap out of someone," Gideon writes. But he points out that the law is flawed in part because proving that someone intended to render someone else unconscious — the main stipulation in the bill defining such an attack! — Is impossible to prove. "Did you mean to knock him unconscious?" the prosecutor will act. "No," the defendant will respond. Absent a brain-reading device, reasonable doubt prevails.
Which loops us back to our original argument. The difficulty in evaluating whether or not particular assaults (of the 5,000-plus aggravated assaults the state sees each year) meet the constrained stipulations of the bill seems prohibitive. The Hartford Courant reports on two cases in the state blamed on the "game," but doesn't clearly indicate if they were punches in the head with the intent of a knockout. As we have noted several times, there isn't any evidence that there was a widespread or common "knockout game" phenomenon last year when the hype peaked. There is little evidence that this much-ballyhooed trend exists in any form now; even its most common form — made-up media panic — it has waned significantly.
So why pass the bill? The Courant quotes another legislator.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said some women have lost babies as a result of these types of random attacks and other people suffered brain damage. "At the very least, this sends a message to these kids this is not funny," she said of the committee's action.
Connecticut is passing a law to send a message to kids because maybe a particular thing happened once. But who will send the kids a message about climbing Christmas trees?