Freedom should not be sacrificed despite tragedy

Decent people don’t go on killing sprees to resolve their differences.

We continue to be horrified by the mass killings in Norway, allegedly by Anders Behring Breivik. He has confessed that, on July 22, he set off a bomb in Oslo, the country’s capital, killing at least eight people. More than 80 others were killed when he went on a killing spree at a youth camp on Utoya island. Many things still are not known. He reportedly is talking freely to police, and claims he had accomplices.

On Monday, an estimated 100,000 Norwegians gathered at the capital’s city hall to acknowledge their own repulsion and sorrow over the mass slaying. Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg addressed the crowd, saying “cruelty can kill a person, but never defeat a people.”

Breivik left behind a 1,500-page screed on the Internet explaining how he was upset at immigrants, especially Muslims, coming to Norway. He believed that his acts would bring attention to his cause and publicize it around the world.

Decent people do not resolve their differences by going on killing sprees. Rather, they resolve problems through peaceful discourse, activism and elections. Ironically, Breivik’s atrocities could bring crackdowns even on peaceful right-wing groups in Norway.

Breivik also apparently could get, at most, 21 years in prison. He could be out at age 53, with much of his life ahead of him. In the United States, he likely would get the same sentence as 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVey: the death penalty.

The light sentence means “you don’t have marginal deterrence, meaning inflicting more penalties on someone who does worse crimes,” said John Lott, a noted criminologist and author of “More Guns, Less Crime.” He said Norwegians and other Europeans also “frown on consecutive terms,” so Breivik won’t be given 90 terms of 21 years each.

Lott added that it took Norwegian police 90 minutes to respond to the killings on the island. They apparently took a long time trying to squeeze 10 officers into a small boat, instead of putting in two or three who could have responded faster, Lott said. In this, the response resembled the approximately two hours it took police to respond to the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre in Colorado, in which 12 students and one teacher were killed.

“It’s rare to kill this number of people” with guns, Lott said. He pointed out that, in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, it took 10 terrorists to kill 170 people. “In the research I’ve done, the key determinant is the time between when it starts and the time when someone gets on the scene.”

The mourning, outrage and investigations continue over the Norway massacre. Yet even at the beginning of the analysis, care must be taken to avoid knee-jerk responses that reduce precious civil rights. Justice must be done. Yet freedom also must be upheld.