By Sandy . . . Jacob Wetterling’s abduction and death in 1989 led directly to a massive system of laws that today affects close to a million men, women, and children plus their family members.
In that same year, 1989, the death by firearms of 4,384 children and teens caused barely a blip on the radar.
Jacob was eleven when he was abducted on October 22, 1989. Based on the account given by Jacob’s brother and a childhood friend who witnessed the abduction, it was assumed from the outset to be sexually motivated and, when days of searching failed to find Jacob alive, assumed to be not just a kidnapping but a murder. This was not verified beyond question until 2016 when Jacob’s remains were found.
Jacob’s mother Patty Wetterling, in the aftermath of Jacob’s loss, began a journey that would ultimately create the Jacob Wetterling Act. It was in May 1991 that legislation creating a registry of known child sexual offenders was first proposed, but the Jacob Wetterling Act, a United States law that requires** states to implement a registry of sex offenders and crimes against children, was not made law until September 1994.
Extensive research has failed to show any other definitive cases of sexually motivated murder of children for many, many years* prior to 1989 or between 1989 and 1994. Had there been more, would the Jacob Wetterling Act have been made law sooner?
What if, instead of just Jacob, there had been ten such deaths? Fifty? A hundred?
What if there had been 4,384? Or 5,793?
Those are the numbers for 1989 and 1994, respectively, of children and teens who were killed by firearms.
By the time that Megan Kanka was murdered in July 1994 at age seven, the system was ready, and it became known almost immediately that her killer had previous sexual offenses. Megan’s Law — which requires** law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders – was enacted almost immediately, in 1994, and officially became a federal law a scant two years later, in 1996.
Gun deaths of children and teens for those two years are 5,793 and 4,613 respectively.
The entirety of what created the Adam Walsh Act is a bit more convoluted. When he was six, Adam was taken from a public setting in 1981, well prior to Jacob. Only his severed head was ever found. No one was ever charged or tried for the crime although a convicted killer who confessed was later declared the killer. A sexual motivation can only be surmised at best, but that did not stop his father John Walsh, who had become a “tough-on-crime” television personality using his son’s name, from using that name and his own growing political influence until, in July 2006, a federal statute named, in full, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was signed into law. It added to, increased, and formally structured penalties and punishments affecting those convicted of sexual crimes and attempted to standardize offender registries across all states.
Gun deaths in 1981 of children and teens numbered 3,589.
And now, in 2023, Jesse McFadden, a registered sex offender in Oklahoma, has killed five children. Their murders were not sexually motivated, but that has not stopped every media and news outlet across the nation from linking the terms “sex offender” and “murdered children” as often as possible.
Nor has it stopped the rush to pile more restrictions and punishments on Oklahoma’s registered sex offenders. The family of the slain are, in their grief, asking for severe, even constitutionally questionable, penalties. At least one Oklahoma legislator plans to introduce “. . . new sex offender laws after a rapist killed six people,” according to local media.
The irony that cannot be overlooked is that the killer murdered his family, including children, with a gun.
Thus far in 2023, 707 children and youth ages 17 and under have been killed with firearms. ***
We can only imagine what lawmakers would be proposing if, between January and May, 707 children under the age of 18 had been murdered by registered sexual offenders.
*In 1973 nine-year-old Lisa Ann French was taken, assaulted, and murdered by a neighbor. Extensive esearch indicates this was the first difinitive death of a child publicly linked to a sexual crime.
**These federal laws do not actually “require” states to act in accordance with them in any given manner. States are “required” to establish a registry and to establish a means of providing information to the public, but the federal government has no control over the specifics of what each state’s registry looks like. The federal government attempts to gain state uniformity with the Adam Walsh Act, but their only means of enforcement is to withhold a certain amount of money from states not in compliance, which is, based on the most recent information, 33.
***This is a site that updates in live time. Today, May 24th, at the time of publishing, 707 children 17 and under have been killed by guns since January 1st. Yesterday the number was 680.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.
18 Thoughts to “The danger to America’s kids — not what you think”
Why isn’t there a registry for murderers. what about all the school shootings and gun violence that’s happening every day and the drive by shootings where there are kids being killed and parents that are killing there children. It’s on the news and you never hear about it again. Are they better then sex offenders. I just don’t understand any of it.
You suggest more registries are needed? One for murders? WI has one for drunk drivers with more than one offense, but the deterrent effect is questionable. Why is the no registry for dirty cops?
I question the efficacy foundational element, the database, as it applies to human behavior. Has the internet culture resulted in more crime or less? We can make the distinction between gun violence and sexualized attack. We have a second amendment protection of fiearms, but zero constitutional amendment protection for gov database.
I don’t think this is a call for more registries but an awareness of the absurdity of the sex offender registry. They ALL need to be abolished.
There is a OUI (as they call it) registry in OH also, but who knows the efficacy of it. There is a registry for those LE who are let go from their jobs for misdeeds so other LE offices/depts are aware of their professional LE history as well as the general public. It is online and has been highlighted by USA Today, et al if anyone is interested in reading about it after a short WWW search.
Me either. We prey on the fears of people with a lack of regard for its impact or ineffectiveness.
Because every other form of a registry has been shot down as severe Constitutional violations. Only within the past year has there been one passed for DUI and animal abuse. The information is public but only name, reason, and date of registration is shown and there is no penalties like with SOR.
My condolences to the families affected by the mass murder committed by Jesse McFadden, but since he was already on the registry, why the hullabaloo by politicians. Additional registries are not the answer since this would not have prevented the grievous crime from being committed, unless a single registry would be needed. That is ridiculous, overbearing on LEO systems, as well as, the public.
It is time for the registry to be discarded. The vast majority on the SRO is worthless to a large degree. Most on it, will not re-offend per statistics. It is no more than a Scarlet Letter with only vague identification. I recently joined a group that questioned me on my reason for being on the listing. Once I laid out the entire situation, they waved their hand and said “is that all?”. I wasn’t a rapist, a child molester or anything like that. My offense was not violent. It was a one time thing that happened 25 years ago. A vast number of those on the registry are no different than I am. They have broadened the number of offenses so greatly that it virtually useless. Further, the permanent nature of being listed is onerous.
Bringing up gun deaths has a purpose for comparison, but is otherwise comparing apples to oranges. There is limited value of a registry for mass killings as more often than not, the perpetrator also dies during the event.
If the SRO is to remain in existence, they need to trim it quite a bit to make it useful for public consumption. If I build a shed or a doghouse, that does not make me a carpenter. Yet, for the registry, if someone slips just one time, they are an “offender”. The term itself suggests ongoing and continuous violations. Thus, referring to a one-time offender is slanderous at its core. Unless it can be proven that the person is a multiple offender, the list is a waste of public resources and undue humiliation and a burden on the individual.
Sandy, you hit it out of the park once more. You are reiterating what I have been trying to get out in the public for years. Unfortunately the powers that be aren’t interested in any of the real issues. They are just working on their next reelection campaign. They have found key words that instill fear at the baser levels and play on that by telling the fearful that they will protect them and their babies.
It’s all a ploy to bring people into compliance with their oppressors desires. The current state of our nation reflects this. The majority of people are afraid of our government and it’s various three letter agencies.
They have cowed the population and in doing so have thrown the one guarantor of our rights out the window.
The only time that the courts or congress use the constitution is when it favors their objectives, otherwise they use precedent to justify their overreaching. It’s about power over the people. It’s a government For the people, not a government made up of the people.
and then there are really bad drivers who kill with their cars, indiscriminately.
not to overlook all the corrupted legislators who put targets on people’s back with their crayons and call it public safety.
the madness has to stop. but it seems to only get worse. everywhere. for now at least. it cant continue. imo.
Very good comparison. Of course the first thing people will say is, “Well, guns are protected by the second amendment of the constitution. So DON’T EVEN THINK of making some stupid law restricting my guns!”. (The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.). which is so hypocritical in that The Eighth Amendment should protect me from this God forsaken RSO laws. (The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.) As long as they keep beating that drum that these laws are NOT “punishment”, then no one bats an eyelash. The thing is, they are experimenting with these laws on us, eventually everyone will be affected by this BS, but it will be too late then…. Anyways, that is my two cents… Thank you for the articles, gets me thinking and stirred up to do something.
From my understanding, Patty Wetterling has had misgivings about the overreach of the sex offender registry. You can read more about it on Wikipedia’s website.
In Oklahoma, my first visit to the local police department to register was rather frightening. A female police officer was dancing around shouting “somebody’s going to jail today!” Fortunately, that p.d. has modified their processing system by using only retired officers to register offenders.
As a state, Oklahomans tend to believe whatever the politicians tell them. Consequently, I see no opportunity for change in Oklahoma.
Great article, Sandy. Really shows the flaws of our political systems in the land of the “free.”
It’s all who you know. Operation Flicker proved that. I would like to see an article on the Military Justice System when it comes to Sex Offenders. Their Laws are so different, and the conviction is insane. I was convicted of raping my step-daughter, she was still a virgin and no signs of abuse but I was still convicted. Her mother did the same thing to her real father making to same accusations. There is no way to prove one’s innocents. The USDB is jammed backed with soldiers that now wear the title sex offender.
We’ve done a couple.
So good, as always, but I would like to add being a family member. I am nanny but to a sex offender. I can’t have alcohol at my house for all many years, and not have my grand kids here for how long????? That is still up in the year of coarse nothing is said to me.
Unfortunately many laws are enacted based solely on feelings and emotions created by unfortunate events. I’ve learned from my treatment to be mindful of making decisions and choices based on feelings and emotions and it’s best to sit in them until they pass when you can think more clearly and rationally. Perhaps our lawmakers need this therapy so they can make laws more rationally. It has been proven that registries and lists don’t work nor reduce offenses of any nature. We need to use our power of our voices until they start to listen and continue to fight and there is strength in numbers. This organization is no different. Keep fighting and supporting them as they fight for all of us.
The SOR is in direct parallel with the Witch hunts in the 17th century. Simply an accusation of witchcraft was enough for the accused to be hung or burned at the stake . The fear of witches was instilled into the people .They were deathly afraid of witches! As with the instillment of fear of Sexoffenders by the politicians into the people of today .
An Adolph Hitler quote for you :
The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.
It is like a sexoffender is tied to a stake and the politicians line up and take turns striking the SO with any means they choose . ( Imposing laws against SOs). As long as the politicians stand to gain by inflicting punishment on an SO they will not abolish the SOR. Suppose they were placed on the SOR subjected to all the restraints and restrictions for 3 years along with the same penalties for any violation. Do you think they would still say the SOR is non punitive ? Just a few thoughts for you .
Convicted Witch .
This article borders on political. Gun violence is a problem, but most people have vastly different ideas on how to solve it, depending on what side of the political spectrum they fall under.
More registries aren’t the answer, especially since many of these gun crimes are committed by first timers (sound familiar?) Many states already have a violent offender registry that is connected to the sex offender registry. Indiana is one of them.
The only registry, in my opinion, that would ever make any sense or do any good is an STD registry, but HIPAA laws would need to be revised to allow it.