In August, an all too familiar tragedy struck the United States when a lone gunman opened fire in an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people and injuring 24 others. The responses to the tragedy were also all too familiar and all together misguided in their attempts to hedge against another headline we all wish to see go out of print.
At this point, there’s no need to turn on the TV or open Twitter after a mass shooting. We know the script each team will be parroting. The left will, for the most part, be demanding gun control, while most on the right will be demanding the death penalty.
These are both emotional responses to a tragedy. And to be clear, emotional responses are human responses and are valid ways to feel in the face of unspeakable violence. The loss of human life should make us emotional, and it should elicit a response. Public policy, however, should not be based on feelings and emotion but rather facts, and I don’t think either of these responses would produce the results we all want: no more massacres.
While I could expand on the failures I see with gun control, I believe my audience is well-informed on this subject. I will turn my attention, instead, to the failures of the death penalty.
For many decades, the right has championed the death penalty without ever stopping to examine it under the microscope we use for so many other issues and policies. Does it work? Does it actually prevent the outcome we dislike? What have been the results in history? Does it sound good but in reality end up hurting people? What are the unintended consequences?
We love to hold ourselves out as the party of principles, logic, and cold hard facts. But for some reason, the death penalty has been able to fly in the face of all of these things without scrutiny.
Those days are over. There’s a growing number of conservatives who have started to recognize the failures of the death penalty, and we are sounding the alarm.
The death penalty is a policy based on feelings and not much else.
It is not a deterrent. It does not prevent future crimes. The money wasted on it is money we aren’t spending to solve more crimes, which we do very little of. The death penalty simply does not work.
Worst of all, the death penalty has the unintended consequence of risking more innocent lives. One person has been exonerated from death row for every ten executions. Hundreds of others have had their cases overturned, taken Alford Pleas, or are lingering on death rows awaiting new evidentiary hearings. Our system gets it wrong all the time, and not just with old cases; many wrongful convictions have happened in the post-2000 era of DNA technology.
Growing up, I was told that the left opposed the death penalty due to a bleeding heart syndrome or because of a greater concern for those who commit murder than for murder victims. Opposition to the death penalty was said to be lacking in logic or consistency and was based solely on feelings. Upon examination, I find the opposite to be true.
Support for the death penalty flies in the face of a pro-life worldview, which the majority of conservatives espouse.
Even if a person claims to only be pro-life for the innocent (an argument I find very hollow), the amount of innocence discovered in death penalty cases should be a compelling enough reason to abandon support of it. Capital punishment does not work, has dire unintended consequences, and is out of step with a limited-government worldview that prioritizes protecting the sanctity of human life from an overreaching government.
I think I speak for most Americans when I say we’re sick of the fear-mongering. We’re sick of hollow proposals that do nothing to address the real problems, and we’re sick of both parties using victims as pawns to advance the policies they want.
It’s time both parties came together and began to address violence, trauma, mental illness, and extremist ideologies, which are the leading causes of these acts of violence. The money currently being wasted on the death penalty could be much better directed to these ends.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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