Defeating the Culture of Death

Here we go again. Wasn’t it just last week we were talking about the murder of 10 people in Buffalo, New York? Now we see 21 people, including 19 schoolchildren, gunned down in Uvalde, Texas. And just as before, America’s liberals are beating their breasts and demanding more gun control.

“As a nation we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Biden exclaimed after Tuesday’s massacre. “When in God’s name are we going to do what has to be done? Why are we willing to live with this carnage?”

And again, just as before, America’s conservatives are hunkering down. We’ll argue that more gun control is a bad idea, that it won’t achieve its stated goal of making everyone safer. What the country needs, we’ll say, is better mental health services, better security at schools, better enforcement of existing gun laws, etc. 

Conservatives, in other words, have our own ideas about “what has to be done.” One thing we won’t do is speak of “the gun lobby” as if it were a space alien, somehow not part of the nation Biden was addressing “in God’s name.”

Surveys of public opinion indeed have found considerable disagreement among Americans about how to battle gun violence. Article summaries in the first page of Google results for “gallup gun control” include things like this: “Americans’ 52% support for stricter gun laws is the lowest since 2014, and the 19% who favor a ban on possession of handguns is the lowest on record.” And this: “A Gallup poll in 2017 found 58% of Americans believing that new gun laws would have little or no effect on mass shootings.” 

So, “as a nation” we have to ask: What in blazes are we going to do? 

For my part, I have long reproached my fellow conservatives for neglecting the crime issue. From 2013 in the American Thinker, for example:

Conservatives’ chronic silence about crime allows liberal gun-controllers to flatter themselves that they are the champions of public safety and the defenders of innocents, and to pass themselves off as such to the public. . . . 

Our slogan has long been: ‘Guns don’t kill people; people do.’ Let us follow that idea to its logical conclusion. While liberals pursue their impossible dream of eliminating murder weapons, we should be setting about the very practical, effectual, and constitutional task of eliminating murderers. 

More on that later. First, let’s talk some more about the carnage we’ve been living with. 

The Uvalde massacre is not the first time such things have struck near me. In 2017, the slaughter of 26 people, including an unborn child, at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, happened less than 30 miles from my home. Before that, I was in Waco in 1993 when the besieged Branch Davidian compound outside of town burned down, with the loss of 76 lives, including 25 children and two pregnant women. And I was in Killeen in 1991 when a gunman crashed his truck into Luby’s Cafeteria there and shot down 23 people, wounding 27 more.

Sad to say, this doesn’t make me the Typhoid Mary (or, rather, the Joe Btfsplk) of American massacres. Anyone who digs around in the Gun Violence Archive will have no trouble at all in finding a mass shooting or three in his own neck of the woods. It’s like the old movie promo: “Coming soon to a theater community near you!”

Again, what are we going to do about it?

At The Federalist, David Harsanyi warns us not to surrender to “do-somethingism” on guns. On guns, that’s good advice, as it is also good advice for opposing the Left’s attempts to abridge the freedom of speech and religion in the name of public safety, social justice and LGBTQWTF rights. But as I argued back in 2013 (just after the Sandy Hook massacre), there’s something we can be doing—something we should have done long ago.

Responding last week to the Buffalo shooting, I quoted John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The maladjusted teenagers who committed mass murder in Buffalo and in Uvalde certainly appear to be strangers to morality and religion, and liberals—who for a half-century now have been trashing America’s hidebound “moralizers” and ignorant “Bible thumpers”—are not to be blamed for disliking the perverse fruits of their labors. Who could like the way these little monsters turned out?

We conservatives, meanwhile, should bear in mind that when Adams pronounced the Constitution “wholly inadequate” to the government of an immoral and irreligious people, this included the Second Amendment, and the First Amendment, too. Is it to be expected that liberals, never repenting of their having subverted morality and religion, should shrink from subverting those two amendments as well?

No, the Left looks at the Bill of Rights, and at other parts of the Constitution such as the Electoral College and the Senate, as impediments. It accordingly is intent on bursting through them (to use Adams’ phrase) “as a whale goes through a net.”

What are we going to do about that? Heartfelt prayers are certainly in order, much as liberals—transfixed as they are by their pursuit of gun control as if it were the Holy Grail—might sneer at them.

The prayer-scoffers do have a point, though: More than prayer is required. I don’t mean, as the scoffers do, that we must dream up some magical means of eliminating murder weapons. Leave that to the impossible dreamers. But what did I say in that American Thinker post almost 10 years ago? “We should be setting about the very practical, effectual, and constitutional task of eliminating murderers.” As I put it in 2017 for American Greatness, we should be hanging murderers, hanging them inexorably, “as certainly as their victims lie cold in the ground, and as swiftly as the wheels of justice will allow.”

Morality? Last week, I quoted Charles Fain Lehman, who argued in City Journal that putting the Buffalo shooter to death “would acknowledge the basic mandates of morality.” I quoted also the late New York Mayor Ed Koch, who called the Bible “our greatest source of moral inspiration” and noted its support for the death penalty.

I might also have quoted Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, who in 2005 wrote with co-author Adrian Vermeule a law review paper titled, “Is Capital Punishment Morally Required?” In its abstract, the article states:

Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many eighteen or more murders for each execution. This evidence greatly unsettles moral objections to the death penalty, because it suggests that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death. Capital punishment thus presents a life-life tradeoff, and a serious commitment to the sanctity of human life may well compel, rather than forbid, that form of punishment.

Nothing came of Sunstein’s apostasy from liberal dogma on the death penalty. No one was listening. Among conservatives, the good professor has long been a bogeyman (Glenn Beck once dubbed him “the most dangerous man in America”), and among liberals, the very idea that executions “may have a significant deterrent effect” was first denounced and then ignored. So Sunstein’s arguments went straight into a deep well, never to emerge again.

The public at large retained its sense that capital punishment is morally required, that (as Chicago’s “everyman” columnist Mike Royko once put it) “Anything less than the death penalty [for murder] is an insult to the victim and society.” But among those who determine such things, nothing came of thatnor will anything ever come of it, unless we force the issue.

If morality points toward the gallows for murderers, what of that other pillar of a constitutional republic, religion? What does religion, particularly the Christian religion, have to say about it? Let me just get out of the way and let Christians speak for themselves.

Martin Luther, for example. Of Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”), he wrote: “A murderer forfeits his life, and it is right that he should be killed by the sword.” Luther affirmed that Christ’s warning to Peter at Gethsemane—“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)—“is to be understood in the same sense as Genesis 9:6: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood etc.’; there is no doubt that Christ is here invoking those words.”

Notice that both of those verses speak of all murderers paying with their lives for their crimes. Not 1 in 10, not 1 in 100, still less 1 in 1,000, which is the way we Americans today “enforce” our laws prohibiting murder.

More of Luther’s thoughts along those lines may be found here. Then we have these others.

St. Paul: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ . . . But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the person in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

St. Augustine: “Surely, it is not without purpose that we have the institutions of the power of kings, the death penalty of the judge, the barbed hooks of the executioner, the weapons of the soldier, the right of punishment of the overlord, even the severity of the good father. All those things have their methods, their causes, their reasons, their practical benefits. While these are feared, the wicked are kept within bounds and the good live more peacefully among the wicked . . . It is not without advantage that human recklessness should be confined by fear of the law so that innocence may be safe among evil-doers, and the evil-doers themselves may be cured by calling on God when their freedom of action is held in check by fear of punishment.”

St. Thomas Aquinas: “Just as a physician looks to health as the end in his work, and health consists in the orderly concord of humors, so, too, the ruler of a state intends peace in his work, and peace consists in ‘the ordered concord of citizens.’ Now, the physician quite properly and beneficially cuts off a diseased organ if the corruption of the body is threatened because of it. Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.”

John Calvin: “The true justice [of rulers], then, is to pursue the evil-doers and the unrighteous with drawn sword. If [rulers] sheath their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice.”

C. S. Lewis: “Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment—even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death.”

More of the same may be found here.

No doubt a fine array of voices could be assembled on the other side of this question. But anyone who puts forward such a list should honestly admit that it represents a disputed point of view, not the united voice of Christian civilization. 

Morality and religion may not be true impediments to executing the Buffalo shooter, or the Parkland shooter, or any of the thousands of less notorious killers in our midst. Neither does the Constitution, as originally accepted and ratified by the nation, pose any such impediment. The modern Supreme Court, however, certainly does bar the path to the gallows for most murderers—the vast majority of whom are not suicidal maniacs but rather are deterrable, self-interested actors, or what Aquinas called “pestiferous men.” To deter them, we must make death for murder the rule rather than the extremely rare exception. To do that, we must find a means of getting the Court’s existing jurisprudence out of the way.

For reasons I’ve explained elsewhere, I recommend a constitutional amendment designed specifically for that purpose. We must bring the Court back into line with the Constitution on this issue; as I put it back in 2013, we must “defend the Second Amendment by restoring the Eighth.” But this article is long enough already, so, rather than fatiguing the reader by dealing with that in any detail here, let me refer him instead to these two earlier pieces—“How Donald Trump and Friends Can Crush the Great Crime Wave,” from 2017, and “Of Junkie Justices and Evolving Indecency” from 2018—where I do my best to answer all objections.

Nothing here is meant to overshadow the importance of finding every effective way of restoring morality and religion—indeed, sanity and safety—to the life of our people. We’re all on the hunt for answers. For example, Kaylee McGhee White has a piece about it in the Washington Examiner, titled “We must confront the cultural mess that gave us Uvalde”:

I wish I could say what the solution is to all of this, but I’m just not sure. What I do know, however, is that children need fathers, and they need to be a part of a community that will protect and care for them and, most importantly, hold them accountable—whether that’s a church, a soccer team, or a close-knit neighborhood. They need to be surrounded by adults who will teach them the importance of individual responsibility and who will step in when necessary.

Too many children aren’t being raised in that kind of environment. We, as a society, are failing them. It’s well past time we admit as much.

Let’s stop failing them. Let us do what is necessary to tackle what Donald Trump once called “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation” and make it a thing of the past. 

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.

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