Murder victims' ages

The law draws distinctions between different forms of homicides, from accidents to negligent manslaughter to murders of passion to premeditated murder.

But one thing the law does not make distinctions between is the age of the victims. Manslaughter is manslaughter, and murder one is murder one, no matter the age of the victim.

There's something about this that doesn't seem quite right. The reason the nation was so horrified about the recent killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School was partly the number of victims, but even more, the age of the victims.

Part of what is so horrific about slaughtering innocent five and six year olds is that they are so defenseless. But a large part of it is that they haven't even gotten a chance to live their lives yet.

If someone murders me, my last thought -- in case I am unable to return the favor -- will be that I want him to fry. But my death will simply not be that tragic. At age 58, unlike those elementary school students, I've already lived most of my natural span.

Ditto for any 58-year-old. He's already gotten to go through puberty and discover how magical girls can be. He's gotten whatever satisfaction is to be gotten from an athletic career. He's had an opportunity to marvel at art, literature, science, etc. He's gotten a sense of human history, and the chance to understand -- in a limited way -- what he was part of. He's had his shot at romance. Whatever career he was going to have, he's had. And most importantly, he may have gotten to experience the joy of children of his own.

So if you kill a sixty-year-old, you're robbing him of his "golden years," a euphemism for a couple of low vitality decades. Kill a child and you're stealing far, far more.

The families of 9/11 victims were compensated according to how much the dead person could have been expected to earn over their lifetimes. I'm not sure I agree with that approach.

But if that compensation should vary, then certainly the severity of the legal penalty should vary according to the age of murder victims.