Tuesday morning’s report from Erie, Pennsylvania that wanted murder suspect Steve Stephens killed himself came less than 48 hours after accused Washington state mass shooter Arcan Cetin apparently hanged himself in a Snohomish County jail cell.
Stephens was the notorious “Facebook killer” suspect who apparently gunned down an elderly man in Ohio and then posted the killing on Facebook.
Cetin was the man who allegedly walked into the Cascade Mall in Burlington last fall and gunned down five people with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle.
Is it safe to ask whether both men did a public service by taking their own lives? Or did they cheat justice in their own way?
Cetin had been transferred to Snohomish County apparently because conversations he had with other prisoners in Skagit County might have endangered his case. Stephens was the subject of a nationwide manhunt after the murder in Cleveland, but in terms of being on the run, he really didn’t run very far.
One significant detail about the Burlington slayings last September is that it could not be exploited by proponents of a ban on so-called “assault rifles” in the Evergreen State. The firearm involved in this case is a Ruger 10/22, a commonly-owned little sporting rifle with a wood stock. That he allegedly used a 25-round magazine has become far less significant in the days since the shooting at the San Bernardino elementary school, where the gunman used a six-shot revolver and reloaded it to fire four more shots. Like Cetin and Stephens, San Bernardino gunman Cedric Anderson took his own life.
Killers who commit suicide, many argue, are the ultimate cowards for not facing justice in a court of law. On the other hand, by exercising self-inflicted capital punishment, they spare society the money it takes to prosecute them, and significantly shorten the public attention span to their deeds.
While the gun prohibition lobby typically exploits these crimes, the laws they propose as a result also typically would not have prevented the specific crime from being committed.
Revolvers like the one used by Anderson to murder his estranged teacher wife do not use “high capacity” magazines. Nothing to exploit there.
The rifle allegedly used by Cetin was not purchased, but taken without permission from his step-father, so there was no background check under provisions of Initiative 594, passed two years prior to the Burlington shooting. Besides, as an immediate family member, there is some question whether a check would have been necessary for Cetin to take the gun in the first place. The law didn’t live up to its promise.
Stephens reportedly had no criminal record, so he apparently could legally purchase a firearm. In a video, he claimed to have “just snapped.” That was his excuse for apparently murdering Robert Godwin on Sunday. There is not a law on the books that can prevent a determined person from committing a heinous act, and gun dealers are not required to be clairvoyant.
There is one question about these high-profile killers. By taking their own lives, have they also cheated the families of their victims? The answer might be summed up in a remark reported by CNN attributed to Godwin’s daughter, Brenda Haymon.
According to CNN, her reaction to Stephen’s apparent suicide was blunt: “All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets. I wish it had gone down like that instead of him shooting himself.”