On the Death Penalty & Gun Control

By Jeffrey Page

The next time some Second Amendment zealots say they can’t understand what’s so strange (or dangerous) about someone like James Holmes possessing an M-16 semiautomatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a couple of .40 caliber semiautomatic handguns, please say a prayer for Veronica Moser.

No need for a formal entreaty, just a please-God reminder that Veronica walked among us for a while, that she had a great smile, that sometimes she liked to wear a pink boa and heart shaped earrings, that she was shown in one picture doing what people her age often must do (trying to rescue the dregs of her ice cream from a cone leaning at a precarious angle), that she was one of the 12 people Holmes murdered in his assault in Aurora, Col.

She was 6 years old. We should remember that as well.

In the months to come, there also will be people offering explanations for Holmes’s felonies and will use his troubled state as an argument against capital punishment.

When that happens, could everyone – people on both sides of the issues of capital punishment and gun control – remind themselves not only of Veronica, but of her mother, Ashley Moser, 25, who Holmes shot into critical condition with bullet wounds to her neck and to her abdominal area, where her unborn child resides.

Additionally, the next time a James Holmes strikes, could someone please read the following list out loud: Fayetteville, Ark., 2; Santee, Calif., 2; Tucson, Ariz., 4.; Florham Park, N.J., 2; Red Lake, Minn., 8; Nickel Mines, Pa., 6; Blacksburg, Va., 32; DeKalb, Ill., 6; Cambridge, Mass., 1; Fort Hood, Texas, 13; Huntsville., Ala, 3; Oakland, Calif., 7.

Those are just 12 of the approximately 75 public shootings that have occurred in the United States during the first 12 years of this new millennium. In the dozen listed we lost 86 of our friends, relatives, and neighbors. There were many more in the 2000s and in decades previous.

Say a prayer. If you don’t know a prayer, just spend a minute remembering them and others we have lost to lunatics with guns.

As for Holmes. Doubtless in the months to come, we will be deluged with explanations for him, the kind of “clarification” we have grown accustomed to over the years, and which some of us are no longer buying. Chances are someone will tell us Holmes had an unhappy childhood, or that he was bullied at school, or that he had a drug dependency, or that he was sexually abused as a child, or that he didn’t get along with his father, or that he didn’t get along with his mother, or that he was paranoid, or that he feared the world, or that he was a loner, or that his girlfriend left him.

Lots of excuses.

Fine, but let us never forget that in addition to walking into that movie house with guns, James Holmes attacked Veronica, and Ashley and all the others out for a midnight movie, with gas (he had a mask) before firing, and that, previously, he had booby trapped his apartment in order to kill as many cops and neighbors as possible. Do I really have to listen to someone tell me how troubled poor James Holmes is?

Doubtless some of these tales about Holmes will be coupled with pleas to Colorado officials to forego seeking a death sentence and go for life imprisonment because it is the more humane thing to do. Must the test of our humanity involve the way we dispose of James Holmes?

A life sentence would mean that if Holmes lives to the age of 80, Colorado taxpayers, possibly including Ashley Moser, would have to shell out enough money to feed him about 61,320 meals. They would pay for his medical care. They would pay for his dental care. They would pay for his clothing. They would pay for everything in his life.

How does society benefit by keeping Holmes alive? Does it demonstrate its humanity? Does it show us as a better people? Not if Holmes is in jail and Ashley Moser has to visit her daughter’s grave. And not when you come to grips with his wish to murder far more people than were in the theater.

I spent most of my life opposed to capital punishment. In most cases, I think I still am, though I accept that anti-death penalty absolutists will disagree. Whatever remains of my humanity is shaken by the likes of the Sons of Sam, the Timothy McVeighs, the Dylan Klebolds and the Eric Harrises. And James Holmes.

Do I, yet again, have to prove my decency by standing for the right of James Holmes to live? I don’t think so. Would society’s decision not to put him to death make the world a better place? I don’t think so.

I hope they serve Holmes whatever he wants for his last meal, and I hope dessert is an ice cream cone.




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4 Responses to “On the Death Penalty & Gun Control”

  1. Valerie Lucznikowska Says:

    What would a death sentence prove other than your revenge? – what will it do other than make you FEEL better? Will that make the world a better place to live in than if he gets life without parole? He will not kill again in prison without parole. And if vengeance is your desire – he will suffer – won’t that satisfy your gut emotion for revenge? If he is dead, he will be relieved of his suffering.

    I am a 9/11 family member: my dar nephew died in the WTC. I live by the Constitution and the rule of law – not the rule of vengeance. The rule of law rather than emotional reactions makes us civilized.

  2. Percy Nephew Says:

    Many who are alive deserve death.
    Many who are dead deserve life. Can you give it to them?
    Then do not be quick to deal out death, as we have no power to bestow life we should not assume, presume to be wise enough to hand out death.

    By the way, as a practical matter, the sixty some odd thousand meals would be cheaper than the taxpayers footing the bill while mandatory appeals are made over the next ten to twenty years.

    Life IS punishment, just ask someone into reincarnation.

  3. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Dear Ms. Lucznikowska and Mr. Nephew:

    Thanks for your responses to my piece on the events in Aurora.

    You suggest that executing the killer is an act of revenge. Of course, others would call it justice. Maybe the argument could be made that one person killing one other person in cold blood is (for lack of a better word) an uncomplicated felony so just lock the killer up.

    But when one person kills 12 as at Aurora, 32 as at Virginia Tech, 13 as at Fort Hood, 8 as at Red Lake, or 168 as at Oklahoma City, everything changes. And after you consider the numbers, consider the children – Veronica Moser in Colorado last week or Bayley Almon (or the other 18 children McVeigh killed at Oklahoma City), and then ask me if what I seek is “vengeance.” Want to call it that? Fine. I’d call it “justice.”

    Would the world be better off if the killer were sentenced to death? Maybe. I don’t believe that execution or long prison sentences act as any serious deterrent to future outrages. But it might stop one, right? Does that justify the death penalty? One for 12? One for 32?

    I’ve heard the argument before that a person will suffer more by spending life in prison than by being put to death. I think this argument is specious since it can’t be proved one way or other.
    As to the Constitution: It acknowledges the use of capital punishment. It also protects defendants against cruel and unusual punishment. My question: If one person shoots up a theater and kills 12 people – or 32 or 168 – can you really describe the imposition of a death sentence as cruel or unusual?

    Mr. Nephew, you got me on the cost of 60,000 (+/-) meals for James Holmes through age 80 in a life sentence costing Colorado taxpayers less than the legal fees he runs up.


  4. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I wrestle with the issue of capital punishment too, Jeff. I recall a high-school debate in the school auditorium in which I used the case of Caryl Chessman, then in the news, to illustrate my opposition to the death penalty. It is a lot harder to make the case for a Holmes or McVeigh. I wouldn’t want to be on the jury.

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