In the wake of Wednesday's shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, the liberal press pointed to something they considered an irony. Brian Levin wrote in the Huffington Post that he considered the act "a hate crime," but that "[i]ronically, the FRC has been one of the most vigorous opponents of hate crime laws." Talking Points Memo noted the alleged shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins, "could be prosecuted under a hate crimes statute. The FRC would rather he wasn't."
To our mind, FRC President Tony Perkins was correct in his Thursday press conference to speak against a hate crime prosecution against Corkins. Did Corkins hate conservative Christians? Probably, and as Perkins pointed out, it probably didn't help that the Southern Poverty Law Center included the FRC on the center's "hate map" along with neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan organizations.
But how much should that really matter in court? It may clarify Corkins' motive and serve as evidence of his guilt, but beyond that -- and regardless of what other conversations the commentariat will have have on Wednesday's incident -- the law should focus only on facts, not on a criminal's ugly attitudes.
Many hate crime laws are constitutionally suspect. The one Congress passed in 2009 effectively created double jeopardy, extending federal jurisdiction to retry state offenses that are considered hate crimes. As the FRC itself notes on its website: "Violent attacks upon people or property are already illegal, regardless of the motive behind them. With 'hate crime' laws, however, people are essentially given one penalty for the actions they engaged in, and an additional penalty for the politically incorrect thoughts that allegedly motivated those action."
Hate crimes laws, in short, violate "the core principle of granting everyone the equal protection of the laws" by treating the same crime differently depending on the victim.
Corkins has been charged with assault with intent to kill and violating federal firearms laws for his alleged crime. He faces up to 30 years in prison for his D.C. charge and ten more for the federal charge. That should suffice.
Corkins walked into the FRC's building with a backpack that contained a loaded 9 mm pistol, extra ammo and 15 Chik-fil-A sandwiches, according to the FBI's affidavit. He allegedly told FRC employee Leonardo Johnson, "I don't like your politics" before shooting him in the arm and getting wrestled to the ground. Corkins's own parents told the FBI that he "has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner." The FRC is well-known for its opposition to same-sex marriage. It publicly backed Chik-fil-A President Dan Cathy, whose comments on the matter caused a national stir. Because the FRC takes such positions, the Human Rights Campaign labeled it a "hate group" the day before the shooting.
From all of this evidence, a person can reasonably infer this was not a random crime. Corkins probably went to the FRC headquarters with the intention of terrorizing the people there and sending a message to others who share their views. It could arguably be called a hate crime. But there are already clear laws against what Corkins is accused of doing outside his own mind. To carve out special rules for one group of victims over another does nothing to stop or deter people like him. The Family Research Council is right to stick to its opposition to such laws, even when it finds itself the victim.