Anders Behring Breivik, a blond haired red blooded Norwegian, went to the pier that provided access to a retreat on the tiny island of Utoeya, a wooded retreat in Tyrifjord Lake that’s about an hour’s drive from Oslo. He arrived at the lakeside pier dressed as a Norwegian police officer. Authorities believe that a few hours before his arrival, he planted a car bomb as a distraction in the heart of the Norwegian government area, killing at least seven people and injuring many more. Initially, the bomb blast was believed to be an attempt on the life of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg by Islamist extremists. Norway’s anti-terror squad and the police responded to the downtown Oslo disaster while Mr. Breivik went to Utoeya on his ultimate goal. In his police officer costume and with the cover story that he was there to inspect their security and safety arrangements in light of the terror attack in Oslo, the security guards gave him access and a boat was called to take him to the island. A few minutes after he arrived, shots were heard. Brandishing an automatic machine gun, Mr. Breivik ran into the main house and opened fire on the crowd. It took more than an hour for the Norwegian police to realize what was happening and respond to the massacre that was unfolding. Mr. Breivik was captured and confessed. As of this writing more than ninety people have been confirmed killed. The victims ranged in age from fourteen to nineteen.
With the perpetrator in hand and a confession on record, there has been some speculation about what kind of sentencing Mr. Breivik is facing. Norway abolished its death penalty way back in 1902. It has never come close to being reinstated. Regardless of the crime, the maximum prison sentence for anyone sentenced to prison is twenty-one years. And despite its rather liberal approach to crime and punishment, Norway enjoys one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. Nevertheless, some people who are reporting on this story find it incredulous that if or when Mr. Breivik is officially found guilty he will be facing a sentence that is rather light considering the magnitude of his crime. If he is given the maximum sentence, Mr. Breivik is facing a rather paltry eighty-five days per life murdered. And as police comb the tiny island, as they find more bodies that number will drop even further. And if Norway has a system of reducing prison sentences for good behavior, that number will fall even further.
Just about anyone with a fair sense of justice will look at this crime and shake their head in severe disappointment. The value of life should be worth much more than just a few weeks in prison, especially when the murderer takes such a callous, cold, calculated, and inhuman attitude towards his victims. It’s easy to point a finger at Norway and say that they don’t have a tough enough stance on crime. Some might even say that they coddle their criminals. This proverbial slap on the wrist is simply too much for some of us to bear. Some of us now feel that we have the moral authority to criticize the unfairness of a judicial system that appears to be lax on crime.
A few years ago we saw John White of Long Island, New York convicted for shooting and killing one inebriated young man who led a team of intoxicated youths to Mr. White’s house threatening violence to the White family. A jury found Mr. White guilty of murder because he didn’t call the police and stayed in his house when the youths approached. Almost that very same moment, Joe Horn of Houston, Texas was facing investigation for the murder of a couple of minorities who were robbing his neighbor’s house. Just before he grabbed his shotgun and went outside to shoot two men in the back, Mr. Horn was on the phone with the emergency operator who gave him direct instructions telling him to stay inside his home and let the police handle the situation, a situation that did not involve Mr. Horn one way or the other. Mr. Horn ignored the instructions and took it upon himself to commit murder. The local district attorney never even tried to convict Mr. Horn. Where are these people with their moral outrage when crime and other forms of social injustice occur in their own backyard? Are these the same people that were telling us that the laws in New York governing a shooting were different than the laws in Texas? We had to accept the fact that the people in two different jurisdictions decided to approach the same matter from two fundamentally different perspectives and therefore we need to allow people their right to just live with the differences? Here in America where we often have to face the fact that many times murder isn’t worth any incarceration, especially depending on who is murdered and who the murderer is, why get upset when other countries don’t apply our level of only sometimes dishing out harsh punishment to those who might be deserving.
According to the most recent homicide rates cited in Wikipedia (believed to be 2010), Norway’s homicide rates is 0.6 per hundred thousand people. Compare that to the United States rate of 5.0 per hundred thousand and we could rightfully assume that people in Norway might be working with a social construct that seems to work a little better than our own. We need to recognize the fact that no justice system is perfect. And while it might be true that we would respond to Mr. Breivik with a far more severe hand of American retribution that would do its best to get a death penalty conviction, such an approach didn’t stop people like Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing, Seung-Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech massacre, Nidal Malik Hasan of the Fort Hood shootings in Texas, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine, or any of the long list of murders home gown in the land of the heavy handed response.