What a disgusting and sad tragedy. Some nutjob apparently has killed several people,
including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. [fingers crossed, apparently she's still alive and the NPR report was wrong]
My immediate impulse is that I want the killer to suffer a similar fate. That’s an emotional reaction, I realize, so here are some quick pro-and-con thoughts.
I am very skeptical about the integrity of prosecutors, particularly those that have political ambitions and think high conviction rates make them look tough on crime (I’d much rather they appeal to people based on their pursuit of justice). So I don’t need to be convinced that it’s possible for innocent people to get convicted because of deliberate evil or run-of-the-mill incompetence by government.
But in situation like this Arizona tragedy, where there is zero ambiguity about the identity of the gunman, I fail to see any reason why capital punishment is not an appropriate penalty. I’ve looked over the academic literature and I think the deterrence argument has some merit, but I also think there’s a pure justice argument for the death penalty.
Addendum: I should add that I hope the gunman was a random idiot without a political agenda like global warming, immigration, or healthcare. It is nauseating when the political types in Washington seek to exploit tragedies.
Another addendum: A couple of friends have said I shouldn’t have posted anything related to the shooting, other than an expression of sadness. Maybe that’s true. I don’t pretend to be overly astute on such matters. Here’s what I sent, as my explanation, in an email after getting chided: “I’m not attacking anybody or making a political point. There have been several spirited debates by commenters about this issue over the past two years, and I got several emails asking about this issue after the news broke. So I did a post describing my own internal thoughts.”