The president’s critics have suggested his efforts to harshly and efficiently punish mass murderers and hate crimes won’t make a difference. MSNBC, for instance, said Trump’s focus on using the death penalty is misplaced because most mass shooters are killed at the scene of their crimes. These critics are right to question using the death penalty, but wrong to suggest that harsher and more efficient punishments would be pointless.
Punishments matter, even for crimes that typically lead to the death of perpetrators, in part because of the relationship between policy and culture. Having appropriate punishments on the books helps instill personal responsibility in our culture. If we are clear about holding hateful individuals to account in the law, it will be easier to hold hateful individuals to account in our families and neighborhoods.
The political left and, at times, the political right treat personal responsibility as if it’s a cold-hearted excuse for government inaction. For many young men, though, personal responsibility can bring about a much-needed culture shock. Young men drawn to violent spectacle are consumed by resentment. They’re taking out their personal dissatisfaction on other people. In pursuit of status or to make a political statement, attackers see their victims as deserving to suffer and die. Sometimes, their violence seeks to incite group conflict, pitting different races, religions or gangs against one another.
Personal responsibility is a direct challenge to a resentful worldview. It’s a call for young men to avoid projecting personal dissatisfaction onto others. Personal responsibility also undermines group conflict, because connects a young man to his own individual agency. Embracing personal responsibility in your own life makes it easier to understand others as individuals, too. (RELATED: JIVANI: Louis Farrakhan’s Erasure From Social Media Took Far Too Long)
The death penalty is an imperfect way to instill the ethic of personal responsibility in our culture. Unlike President Trump, many Americans don’t support the death penalty at all. Administering the death penalty is very expensive to taxpayers, leading even very conservative states to stop capital punishment. Most importantly, less than half of Americans believe the death penalty is applied fairly, which means relying on capital punishment risks undermining the integrity and credibility of the justice system.
Without using the death penalty, it’s still possible to pursue harsher and more efficient punishments. For example, President Trump and the Department of Justice should advocate for the consistent use of life without parole plus restitution to victims’ families, which was the sentence given to the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooter. No mass shooter should get an easier sentence than that.
President Trump and the DOJ should also look into more efficiently delivering justice in such cases. The Aurora shooter was sentenced three years after his crimes were committed, when national attention had largely faded. By the time justice was delivered in Colorado, the cultural impact of holding the Aurora shooter accountable was considerably weaker than it should have been.
Where appropriate, our laws should promote personal responsibility, which is part of the culture shift needed to save more young men from violent extremism. Harsher and more efficient punishments for mass murderers and hate crimes can help accomplish just that.
Jamil Jivani (@JamilJivani) is the author of Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It (St. Martin’s Press, 2019).
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.