Crime continues in America on an upward spiral, and more and more citizens are demanding that additional steps be taken to protect them in their homes, on the streets and elsewhere.
Let us remember, in this context, that the primary purpose of government is to protect its citizen against foreign and domestic enemies -- and domestic "enemies" include the common criminal.
This nation needs to return to swift apprehension of criminals, speedy trials and sure punishment. This is especially underscored when even the president is not safe from an assailant's bullet.
The federal role involving the death penalty is a limited one. Primary responsibility for crime lies with the states. I favor capital punishment applied by the states, and I also support a federal death penalty bill. Years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the capital punishment law on the federal and state levels. It was reinstituted for the crime of hijacking, but it is now time that the death penalty be reinstituted at the federal level for murder, treason and espionage.
The legislation, which has been introduced this year as S114, would apply only where the federal government has jurisdiction. It would still be up to each state to determine whether it wants to utilize capital punishment or not. Incidentally, recent polls indicate that two-thirds of the American people support the death penalty.
In line with Chief Justice Warren Burger's recent calls for steps to deter crime, there is the need for Congress to pass a revision of the nation's outdated, piecemeal federal criminal statutes. Although there are some objections to the code revision bill that was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, the bill as a whole contains many good things.
It would be hard, indeed, to think of a more basic crime-control issue than reform of this country's criminal code. The administration of the law, as well as the people dealing with it, are all highly dependent upon the existence of rationally formulated criminal statutes.
In a nutshell, the proposed code revision compromise completely revamps federal sentencing procedures and abolishes the Parole Commission by creating a new Sentencing Commission. It would, among other things, enable the government to employ several innovations to deal more effectively with "white collar" crime. There are also tough provisions dealing with racketeering and extortion.
Another bill, which was pending prior to the close of the last Congress but was not acted upon was the so-called Domestic Violence Bill. It cannot be disputed that spouse and child abuse in this country is a serious problem. But the prinicpal objection to this legislation, which I expect is shared by many in the administration, is the apparent absence of a definable federal jurisdiction in this area. Custody and marital matters have traditionally been the jurisdiction of the states -- and should remain so. State courts have always exercised jurisdiction in family matters. Furthermore, the proposed domestic violence legislation would be too costly to administer.
Federal intervention, of course, has reared its head in many other areas in recent years. For example, the Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, passed into law last year, purports to protect prisoners, patients and others in state institutions from abuse and violations of their civil rights. No one should condone any intentional violation of a person's civil rights, but a law that gives authority to the U.S. attorney general to go into a state and second-guess the governor and state officials in their operation of state institutions goes too far.
Federal courts have also tampered with the ability of police and prosecutors to arrest and prosecute criminals. Again, constitutional rights must be protected, but the courts have bent over backward to do so at the expense of public safety.
One more note on the federal-state role in combating crime. The Reagan administration will attack, as a priority, the kind of violent crime that cannot be effectively handled at the state and local law-enforcement levels. Terrorism, union violence, arson and other violent criminal acts in connection with drug trafficking should be met with adequate federal resources. c
One cannot help reflecting, too, on another important aspect of crime and the criminal. It is not only the physical environment that may shape a person; it is also his moral environment. This is why parents are so concerned about the moral education and environment in our schools. Even though the state insists that each pupil get a proper education, the parent still retains the responsibility to see that the education his or her child gets is conducted according to the moral principles of the family.
If has long been my belief that whenever someone adopts anti-social attitudes, he alone must bear the responsibility and guilt -- and the end purpose of moral training should be to make citizens understand this responsibility.
Until then, it would seem, America will continue to have serious crime problems.