A recent Philadelphia shooting has attracted so much local attention that I thought it merited a post. The situation is so appalling, and the family so squalid and so dysfunctional, that it challenges my usual libertarian sensibilities, and while it doesn’t incline me towards communitarian thinking, it does incline me to entertain the idea that some situations — and some people — might be so hopeless as to be beyond redemption.
This is, I admit, an ugly thought, and one most people don’t allow themselves to have. But is denial the better approach? Too many libertarians just want the world to be the way they are. They behave responsibly, and therefore so should others.
Tell that to the family involved here:

Philadelphia – A five-year old boy was shot outside a Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) home early yesterday morning, police said yesterday.
Chief Inspector Keith Sadler described the scene as “chilling,” as a group of children, pre-school age to teenagers, were surrounded by illegal guns in a building police said had been abandoned. The shooting occurred at around 1 a.m. at 622 Huntington St. in the West Kensington section of the city. The child, whose name has not been released, was taken to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and is in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the buttocks.
The child’s mother, Charlene Shallings, 29, was arrested last night for endangering the welfare of a child. Police said she was found in a local cocktail lounge at the time of the incident.
Police are looking for 15-year old Kevin Fletcher, who is assumed to be armed and dangerous.
Chief Sadler said police recovered two guns from a van that transported the five-year-old to the hospital – a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a .380 semiautomatic handgun. On both guns, police said the serial numbers were nearly obliterated, but investigators were able to trace them.
Chief Sadler said Mr. Fletcher is wanted in connection with another shooting that occurred last month, and evidence ties both shootings to yet another incident – the accidental shooting of two other children, ages 15 and 11, on Thanksgiving night.
About half a dozen other children, ages 2 through 15, were present at the time of yesterday morning’s shooting, as well as the Thanksgiving shooting. Police have the unidentified 15-year old in custody.
“The twist to this story is that the 15-year-old victim … was also arrested for a shooting prior to these incidents. Last night, the shooter for the incident on Thanksgiving night … was present at [yesterday’s] shooting. We believe these to be accidental shootings.”
Police said the two guns involved in both shootings were reported stolen by Fletcher’s uncle, who allegedly possessed them legally and resided nearby.
“The teenagers stole these guns from their uncle’s residence. This is all very frightening because it involves teenagers and preschool children,” the chief said.
Police said the investigation into the case is ongoing.

Did the 15 year old steal the guns accidentally too? What was a 5 year old doing hanging on the street corner at 1:00 a.m.?
That was a couple of days ago. In today’s Inquirer, it was reported that the boy has been arrested, and the mother of the five year old is having her children taken away.

The wounded boy’s siblings have been placed in the custody of child welfare officials.
Police have charged their mother, Charlene Stallings, 29, with endangering the welfare of children, saying she apparently was in a cocktail lounge at the time of the shooting.

But she’s a good mother!

Relatives said Stallings was a good mother who left her children with a baby-sitter while she visited friends nearby.
Court records show that Stallings pleaded guilty May 3 to retail theft in Montgomery County. She had been arrested in January on a complaint dated Nov. 15, 2006, according to records.
They indicate that she apparently was unable to post bail, even when it was reduced to $500. She remained jailed until she was paroled May 11.
After her release, she made no payments on $988 in outstanding court fines and assessments, and on Sept. 26 Montgomery County referred the matter to a collection agency, the records showed.
Officials also said her 11-year-old son was arrested in October for car theft and was placed in a court-ordered program designed to reduce violence in the city.

I must be getting old and uptight, but I think age five is too young to be hanging out on street corners, and eleven is definitely too young to be stealing cars. At that age, the kid might have problems seeing over the dashboard. Someone might get hurt.
In another piece, a relative weighed in on the family’s, um, issues:

Aisha Meggett, Stallings’ cousin, said the police have the story all wrong. She was babysitting at the home yesterday and helping to clean up; clothes were strewn around the living room following the police search the night before.
“They’re trying to make it seem like my cousin is a bad mother, but she takes care of these kids,” Meggett said, opening the refrigerator to show that it was stocked with food. She said Stallings was not at a lounge at the time of the shooting, but visiting friends nearby, while a 19-year-old cousin of the injured boy was babysitting. The incident happened about 10:30 p.m., she said.

Oh well in that case, it’s fine! Five year olds have a perfect right to be hanging out on the street at 10:30 unsupervised. And food in the refrigerator? What more evidence of responsibility do we need?

“There’s no gun in this house, no drugs, nothing,” Meggett said. “My cousin wouldn’t jeopardize anything.” She had no idea how Fletcher obtained the gun. “Kids find guns and they play with them. If they [police] found a gun here, they set us up.”
Other relatives, too, decried the ready availability of guns.
“What do you think? Guns are all around,” said a teenage cousin of the victim, who declined to give his name. “Go over there, go in there, and you’ll find a gun in a couple of minutes,” he said, indicating a vacant lot across the street.
After the shooting, the boy was taken by private vehicle to Episcopal Hospital and then to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, where he remained yesterday. His three siblings were taken into custody by the city’s Department of Human Services, which is also investigating.

I’m sure there are plenty of gun control advocates who’d agree with the people quoted that the problem is guns, because families that let their five year olds hang out on the street where they find guns and play with them are utterly blameless.
The worst thing about this is that while I don’t blame guns for being stolen and played with any more than I’d blame the car that the eleven-year-old stole, I worry. My worry is that there might be people who just plain shouldn’t have guns. They shouldn’t have cars. And in all probability, they shouldn’t have kids. (The mother who was at the cocktail lounge when all this happened has had hers taken away.)
Not that any of this matters. I doubt that the mother or any of her kids are allowed to own firearms anyway. That’s why the gun control people are upset by cases like this.
Notice how the Inquirer trots out the stock phrase “ready availability of guns,” though. They’re writing about a group of people who are not legally allowed to have them, yet who claim they are everywhere, and admit their kids are playing with them. If there is a problem with ready availability, I would suggest it is a law enforcement problem.
The idea of passing more laws for such people to ignore is laughable. It is illegal for 15 year olds to steal guns. It is illegal for 15 year olds to possess guns. Similarly, it is illegal for 11 year olds to steal cars, and the last I heard, it was also illegal for them to drive them!
Now, let’s suppose the 11 year old who stole the car had managed to run over the 5 year old before the 15 year old had managed to shoot him.
Would anyone be complaining about the “ready availability” of cars?
If this family proves a ready availability of anything, it’s that Philadelphia has a ready availability of crime.
(Need I point out for the umpteenth time that there is also a ready availability of laws? Nah, why bother?)
The problem is that I can offer no solutions, which is what makes posts like this emotionally unfulfilling to write.
Libertarianism offers nothing by way of solutions to intractable social problems. People like me tend to have a “Leave me alone in my house, and I’ll leave you alone in your house” approach. This might work fine among libertarians who don’t believe in “It Takes A Village.” But what happens when the village wants village laws, village rule, and (ultimately) village tyranny?
What happens when the village “decides” it does not like the “ready availability” of freedom?
Can I just go get it somewhere else?
MORE: This quote from Ludwig von Mises may be helpful to libertarians in their time of need:

A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police.