The anti-death penalty movement is resurrecting the worn out talking point that executing people who murder innocent men, women, and children is too expensive. They say new studies show that government is raising taxes in order to kill the people who murder America's children, wives, and fathers. We get it. We've heard this argument before. Organizations like the Death Penalty Information Center are retooling the same quotes we reread every time there is a movement to end the death penalty.
A prison warden, and a governor or two tell us that the cost benefit analysis is bad. Their position is that it is cheaper to allow ruthless murderers to die of old age in prison. But most Americans want them to die sooner.
When you drill down to the reason we want a cold-blooded murderer dead, it's simple to understand. We want justice. Death penalty reformers call it vengeance. They attack proponents of the death penalty as barbarians with a blood lust. But our desire to execute that person who has killed our friends, or our neighbors is something more elegant than barbaric. Intuitively, we understand that justice separates us from a society living in chaos. James Wilson wrote a book he titled, The Moral Sense, where he concludes that most of us are hardwired in a way that arms us with an innate sense of justice. We are sympathetic and even angered when our neighbor is mistreated. It is that moral sense that most of the time secures our position at the top of the food chain. Reformers sometimes attempt to shame the relatives of victims who have lost family to murders so brutal that we can't find equivalent conduct even in the most primitive parts of the animal kingdom. Arguments about the possibilities of rehabilitation, the ugliness of revenge, the waste of money, and the risk of mistake, sound hollow to a mother who has had her child murdered and decapitated by a repeat sex offender.
When that mother is asked whether she wants her child's killer executed in a system that clearly is imperfect, most all of us would agree that she has the unequivocal right to say, yes.
If Wilson is right, that directive for all of us to treat others as we want to be treated was written on our hearts long before the words were ever spoken at the Sermon on the Mount.
There are a couple of ways to analyze what is happening with a movie audience when a character like ... Charles Bronson, or Clint Eastwood interrupts the life of one of those barely human characters who's wiring has short circuited. When the audience applauds with approval, we might be fearful that our civilized world has become dysfunctional. But it is more likely that what we are hearing is an expression of that innate sense of justice that Wilson identifies.
Attempts by reformers to improve a flawed death penalty system by encouraging reflection and more safeguards is something we should appreciate. However, it sometimes shows a lack of understanding about our sense of justice when they argue that killing an incorrigible sociopath who has killed our friend or neighbor is "just too expensive."