Time and time again I hear the same response to my proposals for Puerto Rico: “you have many good ideas, but the death penalty is unacceptable.”
I understand the natural fear and rational distrust of government abuse. I seek limited government and maximum personal freedom, while maintaining a working society.
I cannot accept, however — in the face of more than 5,000 murders in the last six years in Puerto Rico — that somehow the government should be unable to put to death those who deserve to die. It is the moral thing to go with those who murder others or who commit insurrection against the independent country, once it is established.
All other options to curb violent crime on the island, except three, have been tried in the last 20 years. And all three are in my proposal: the right to keep and bear arms, an end to the drug war, and a short-cycle death penalty.
The war on drugs is the main driver of violence, with drug gangs constantly fighting each other, killing potential witnesses, and imposing a terror regime upon the people. The difficulty in obtaining personal weapons and the right to use them in self defense is another. However, equally important is that those violent criminals have absolutely no fear of government authority. None.
To do nothing is to be complicit in the deaths of hundreds of people each year. To repeat old mistakes and refuse to take action because of an alleged moral disagreement is equally wrong. Let us take a moment to analyze the moral question (government should have no right to kill its citizens) and the question of whether or not we should allow the death penalty, because there might be a mistake.
First, let me point out (at the risk of sounding heartless) that I do not believe in Pareto efficiency. It does not exist within the human experience. There will always be losses; there will always be mistakes.
We do not and cannot cease to live; nor can we refuse to allow any government of any kind just because a “mistake may happen.” If that is the measure of what is allowed or not, we might as well lie down and die, since we can be killed by an accident in a car, in our bathtub, in our workplace, or in a myriad of other scenarios.
There is also inconsistency in the logic against the death penalty. Do you believe in having an armed police force, whether government or private? Do you believe in having a standing army or reserves for national defense? Do you believe in the right to keep and bear arms and the right of self-defense?
Why is it appropriate for government to have the power to kill on the streets in a gun fight between police and a criminal — who, if killed, will have no trial and no appeal — but wrong to hold a trial and execution within one year of conviction?
If you believe in having a military and the right of a nation to defend itself, are you not aware that civilians die in war? “Mistakes will be made” on the battlefield, and these can only be avoided by not having an army and not defending the country in the first place. Those mistakes, may be investigated after the fact, but dead enemy soldiers have no trial and no appeal.
A private homeowner with a gun is in the same situation. A person may break into his home at night to harm the family, and the homeowner may shoot him, but what if there is a mistake and the person only wanted to use the phone? Should we prohibit the right to keep and bear arms simply because a mistake might be made: a homeowner, soldier, or police officer might misuse his weapon?
Instead, let us punish those who abuse their power or who commit criminal offenses.
To say that it is immoral for government to exercise the death penalty, because it is murder, is like saying it is immoral for government to imprison anyone. Kidnapping and holding someone captive on a private basis is a crime too. Yet, if a man kidnaps a child, do we not kidnap him and hold him against his will?
If you believe that the death penalty is too much power for the state to have, then you must also consider support for armed police, the presence of a military of any kind, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to self-defense. In the violent climate of Puerto Rico and Latin America, is it not immoral to lay down your responsibility to defend your children and your community, and allow them to die and your nation to be overrun by those who have no compunction about using violence?
Would we not also be complicit if we do nothing in the face of such a threat?
If you support the changes I am proposing, but you hesitate or withdraw your support for all, because of your disagreement with one, things will remain the same. The blood you fear will continue to flow in the streets of Puerto Rico.
In a perfect world, we would need no government, no weapons, no police, no armies, and certainly no death penalty. That is not the world I live in … do you?