A bill that would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state on the grounds that it will reduce criminal justice expenses appears to be on the fast track, with a public hearing today before the state House Judiciary Committee, which will then consider the bill tomorrow during an afternoon executive session.
During that same session tomorrow, according to the Judiciary Committee schedule, two other important bills, HB 1857 and HB 1731, will also be considered. House Bill 1857 is the bill sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, the committee chair, that is based on California’s “Gun Violence Restraining Order” law last year. It would allow confiscation of firearms from people who allegedly “poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to self or others,” according to a bulletin from the National Rifle Association, which opposes the measure.
House Bill 1731 creates a protocol for the return of firearms in the possession of law enforcement agencies to their owners. The bill may be read here.
The death penalty brings out the best and worst in opponents and advocates, as will likely be the case when House Bill 1739 is debated in public today and in private tomorrow. Death penalty opponents argue that it is not a deterrent while advocates note that Ted Bundy will never commit another murder. Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a moratorium on the death penalty while he is in office, an issue that his critics say is one more good reason to replace him in 2016.
If the measure passes the Democrat-controlled House, it faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate. Perhaps it is just being offered to divert public attention away from the battle over a proposed gas tax hike that could have a devastating impact on middle class and lower-income citizens.
Consider that the death penalty is not really about deterrence, it’s about the ultimate punishment. Murder people wantonly, and you forfeit your own existence. How many people look at news reports of ISIS terrorists beheading Christians for no other reason than their faith, and don’t – deep down inside – secretly wish that a team of Army Rangers, Navy SEALS or U.S. Marines suddenly popped up out of the sand with guns blazing, leaving a pile of masked bloody corpses for the vultures?
The death penalty works if it is used, advocates explain. Opponents argue that putting someone to death is cruel. Murdering an innocent cashier in an all-night gas stop robbery seems rather cruel, too. It makes us barbaric. It rids us of barbarians. Pick a side, because there is no in-between.
At one time, people were hanged in public. Then it was decided this turned the process into a spectacle, so it was moved inside prison walls, with few witnesses. Electrocution replaced the gallows in many states. Then came lethal injection. Some might argue that the process is now too sanitized to create much of a deterrent.
When a criminal or madman is justifiably shot dead, by police or an armed private citizen, that could be construed as the death penalty in action. It is delivered swiftly without all the legal red tape of an investigation, indictment, trial, conviction and appeals. Death penalty opponents are often, though not uniformly, anti-gunners, while death penalty supporters are often, though not always, Second Amendment advocates.
Should Washington eliminate the death penalty? Do you carry a defensive sidearm for personal protection? Should the state have the authority to take a human life? Should you have the tool for taking a life on your belt or in a pocket or purse?
The House Judiciary Committee meets this morning for hearings. It meets Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in executive session.
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