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A Chance for Obama to Speak Up for Justice

President Obama made some remarks about the Charleston church massacre. They were notable both for what they included and what they omitted.

What they included, as reported by the Washington Post, was this:

 "We don't have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun," he continued. "Now is the time for mourning and for healing, but let's be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

Is any of that true?
Yes, some of it is.  It's true that this is a time for mourning.  As for "healing," I don't know what the President means.  Human beings do not "heal" from being murdered. I think "healing," like "restorative justice" and "coming together," has just become a catchword designed to avoid the hardness of reality.

CJLF does not, to my knowledge, take a position on gun control legislation, but it does take a position on the death penalty  --  something that was conspicuous by its omission from today's remarks, but the only thing resembling justice that remains to be done in this case.

My own view is that a person willing to murder is certainly going to be willing to flout gun control laws.  But the key word here is "willing."  A gun does not fire itself.  It takes an act of will.  Perhaps, at some point, the President might address himself to that.

His remark that mass shootings don't occur "in other advanced countries" raises a couple of questions.  First, what is his definition of an "advanced country"? Second, assuming that Norway counts among that number, the President's claim is not well-founded.  Four years ago, Anders Breivik gunned down 69 people, the great majority of them teenagers, on an island in Norway (this was after he killed 8 more in a bomb attack the same day in Oslo).  That is well more than in this episode, the Newtown, Conn. shootings, and the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings combined.

It's somewhat odd that the President would use this occasion to lobby for gun control, since, in the same breath, he essentially waved the white flag of surrender on the issue, as noted in exactly those terms in this related Post story.

What the President missed was the opportunity to re-state something that, at one time at least, he said he believed:

I believe that the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances. There are extraordinarily heinous crimes, terrorism, the harm of children, in which it may be appropriate. Obviously we've had some problems in this state [Illinois], in the application of the death penalty and that's why a moratorium was put in place and that's why I was so proud to be one of the leaders in making sure that we overhauled it, death penalty system that was broken...We have to have this ultimate sanction for certain circumstances in which the entire community says this is beyond the pale.

That was his position when a candidate for the Senate.  He seemed to reiterate it last year when DOJ ordered a criminal justice policy review.  As reported in this NYT story at the time, the President said:

"The individual who was subject to the death penalty had committed heinous crimes, terrible crimes," he said of the Oklahoma inmate. "And I've said in the past that there are certain circumstances in which a crime is so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate -- mass killings, the killings of children."

The Charleston church massacre qualifies as a "mass killing" under any intelligible definition of that term.

To its credit, this Administration sought and obtained the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when he killed just(!) three people in the Boston Marathon bombing.  Now is the time for the President to repeat that there are crimes  --  including last night's, with three times the number of victims  -- "so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate."


I am curious, Bill, whether you think this case would be better handled by state or federal authorities for criminal prosecution.

A good question that I have answered on another thread. I would be interested in your view of it.

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