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Pence Criticized Over Call for “Expedited” Death Penalty for Mass Shooters

Experts on violence widely agree that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Eagle Point Park Lodge on July 30, 2023, in Clinton, Iowa.

On Sunday, former Vice President Mike Pence — who is also running for the GOP nomination for the 2024 presidential election — reacted to a shooting over the weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, by suggesting that mass shooters should be subjected to an “expedited” death penalty process.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Pence said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” program, “and I’m calling for an expedited federal death penalty for anyone engaged in a mass shooting like took place in Jacksonville.”

“We’ve got to send a message to anyone that has evil in their hearts, that there is no chance for them to spend the rest of their life behind bars, that they’re going to meet their fate in months, not years,” Pence added.

Pence didn’t elaborate on how his plan would work to deter mass shootings. The gunman in the Jacksonville shooting, who killed three Black people near a Dollar General store, killed himself when police arrived at the scene. Police later uncovered a racist manifesto written by the shooter.

“Mike Pence’s solution to gun violence is handing down a death penalty to a guy who literally killed himself,” said Craig Harrington, research director at Media Matters, in response to the video of Pence’s words.

A New York Times examination of mass shootings showed that a quarter of 433 different active shooting events examined (25.4 percent) ended with the assailant taking their own life. An FBI analysis from 2014 placed the figure at a higher rate, with 40 percent of mass shooters dying by suicide.

Conservative politicians like Pence have long argued that the death penalty serves as an effective method of deterring crime. But Pence’s comments are not backed by scientific evidence — indeed, in states where the death penalty is used as a form of punishment for capital crimes, murder rates are actually higher than they are in states without the death penalty.

“Most experts do not believe that the death penalty or the carrying out of executions serve as deterrents to murder, nor do they believe that existing empirical research supports the deterrence theory,” Amnesty International says on its website.

It’s likely that Pence is trying to stake out a position that will make him appear “tough on crime” in an effort to court Republican voters as his campaign struggles to secure better polling numbers months before the first of many nominating contests are set to occur. Pence’s main competition in the GOP primaries, former president Donald Trump, has taken an even more extreme stance on the death penalty, suggesting that it should be used against people who are convicted of drug-related crimes.

President Joe Biden, the likely nominee for Democrats in the 2024 presidential race, said during the 2020 election that he would “pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.”

Biden’s actions on abolishing the death penalty, however, have been lacking. The administration did indefinitely suspend all scheduled executions at the federal level for incarcerated people currently on death row — but activists say that more needs to be done.

“Biden has not taken steps to actually end the practice,” Alice Kim, co-director of the Justice, Policy and Culture Think Tank, wrote in an op-ed for Truthout last year. “And while federal executions have been halted for the time being, the Department of Justice has defended and sought the death penalty in the high-profile cases of Dzhokar Tsarnaev and Dylann Roof.”

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