The Administration’s Response to Mass Shootings: Expedited Executions

Less than an hour after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold started shooting people at Columbine High School, they killed themselves. The same is true for Adam Lanza, who killed himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School after his shooting rampage.

That is not an uncommon end for mass shooters, according to research done by the Associated Press.

More than half the perpetrators of mass shootings since 2006 have ended up dead at the scene of their crimes, either killed by others or dying by suicide, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University…Of the 82 public mass shootings since 2006, 30 gunmen killed themselves and 16 were killed.

While the specifics can be controversial, of the 16 who were killed at the scene, it is possible that many of them would fit the description of “suicide by cop,” which is “a method of suicide that occurs when a subject engages in threatening behavior in an attempt to be killed by law enforcement.

We can assume that a gunman who engages in a mass shooting expects (or wants) to die. At a minimum, he is not concerned with the consequences of his behavior. But that kind of basic logic has escaped this administration.

The Justice Department has drafted legislation to expedite the death penalty for those convicted of mass murder and the provision will be included in a larger White House package designed to address recent incidents of gun violence, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence said Monday.

Pence has been directly involved in conversations with Attorney General William Barr about the death penalty initiative, Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, told reporters traveling with Pence between Poland and Ireland on Monday.

Since imposing the death penalty happens only after a gunman has taken lives and spread terror, the only possible justification for it is deterrence. But as Matt Stein explains, the administration is once again ignoring the evidence.

One study from 2009 found that 88 percent of criminologists did not consider the threat of execution as a deterrent, a level of consensus that matched the scientific consensus on human involvement in global warming.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ignoring research about policies that could actually save lives.

Children living in states with strict firearm laws are less likely to die from gun violence than those in states with more lax restrictions, according to a study in Pediatrics published Monday. The more rigorous the rules, the lower the risk, the researchers showed.

Given the involvement of Donald Trump and William Barr in this decision to push for the death penalty in response to mass shootings, it should come as no surprise that they have ignored the facts. After all, it was the president who called for the reinstatement of the death penalty against the Central Park Five before they even stepped foot in a courtroom. He has also referred to our criminal justice system as a “laughingstock” because it isn’t strong enough. Similarly, the attorney general doesn’t seem to know the difference between justice and revenge, suggesting that because our system is a process, it doesn’t achieve justice very often.

Confirming what we would expect, studies have shown that “authoritarianism is a leading predictor of death penalty support.” Perhaps that is why, prior to this move by the Trump administration, the United States already “ranked in the top five countries in terms of state killings, along with Saudi Arabia, China, Iraq, and Iran.” Additionally, “the vast majority of executions in America (81 percent) have been carried out by Southern states,” with Texas—where two mass shootings recently took place—leading the way. It is clear that Trump and Barr want to inflict the death penalty more often because they are authoritarians, not because it works.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.