Jonah Goldberg notes in his latest National Review Online column that one group of vocal political advocates has maintained an unusual silence in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shootings: death-penalty opponents.
Death-penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.
But when the murderer is white or racist or his crimes so incomprehensibly ugly, the anti-death-penalty crowd stays silent. It’s the smart play. If your long-term goal is to abolish the death penalty, you want to pick your cases carefully.
But the simple fact is, if the death penalty is always wrong, it’s wrong in the politically inconvenient cases too.
The standards of newspaper writing and civic discourse require that we call Holmes the “alleged” culprit in this horrific slaughter. That’s fine, but if the facts are what we’ve been told they are, then we know this man is guilty and the jury will not have a hard time saying so.
We don’t know whether or not he’s mentally ill, but odds are he isn’t. Indeed, criminologists and psychiatrists will tell you that most mass murderers aren’t insane. But the public debate is already caught up in a familiar tautology. What Holmes did was an act of madness, therefore he must be a madman. And if he’s a madman, we can’t execute him because he’s not responsible for his actions. And if he’s not responsible, then “society” must be. And we can’t execute a man for society’s sins. So: Cue the debate about guns, and funding for mental health, and the popular culture.
Well, I say enough. I favor the death penalty. I don’t support killing insane or mentally disabled people who are truly not responsible for their actions, but I don’t believe that committing an “act of madness” necessarily makes you a madman. But committing an act of wanton evil makes you an evil man.