James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, October 28, 2016

"I couldn't push the button myself."

The conversation at a dinner party last night turned to a question on the Nebraska ballot: the death penalty. It had been abolished by the legislature in 2015 over the veto of Governor Pete Ricketts. Ricketts, a wealthy man, helped fund the ballot initiative to get it restored.

There was no particular moral objection to the death penalty. For me, it's not about "life for life" or vengeance. We kill rabid dogs, don't we? Killing people who have demonstrated they're a threat to others is self-defense.

But that theoretical justification for the death penalty doesn't outweigh the practical concerns which led this conservative state to abolish it for a conservative reason: it doesn't work.

There's the number of innocent people who get convicted of capital crimes, plus the length and cost of the appeals process.

Then someone said this: "I can't support it because I couldn't push the button myself." I don't think she meant she wouldn't do it out of doubts over guilt or innocence. The prisoner could indeed be guilty. She meant she couldn't bring herself to deliberately take a human life.

Fair enough.

If you eat meat, you should be willing to work at a slaughterhouse. And if you support the death penalty, you should be willing to be the executioner.

That's not to say you should want to do it. It might not be your first choice for a job. But if you believe in it, your conscience would permit you to do the work no matter how unpleasant it is.

Just as it's fair to ask death penalty supporters if they'd push the button themselves,  I think it's fair to demand anyone who says "there ought to be a law" to affirm that they'd be willing to personally enforce it. That includes the threat of violence, and the use of violence, up to and including lethal force.

Is your neighbor selling jars of jam from her house without a health inspection?

Is she charging for haircuts without ever having gone to cosmetology school?

Is the street vendor selling in the wrong zone?

Does a freelance repairman accept cash only for his work, which you suspect he doesn't report in his tax filings?

Would you be the one who would, at minimum, ruin their day with an investigation?

Would you be willing to kill them if they resist arrest?

Do you really believe the laws that could get them into trouble are necessary for a peaceful, orderly society?

If your conscience prevents you from being the one to push the lethal injection button, then you don't really believe the death penalty is necessary.

And if you're not willing to kill for a law, you don't believe it's necessary.



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