Gallery C

"Shoot 'em Dead"
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The Human Propensity For Killing

By James Donahue

Something strange has been occurring in recent months. People of all ages, even children, have been on deadly suicide missions, walking into schools, theaters, shopping malls and other public places with guns blazing, attempting to kill as many innocent victims as possible before they get gunned down by the police.

This hasn’t been a new development. Insane killers have gone down in history. Andrew Kehoe bombed the Bath School at Lansing, Michigan in 1927 and killed 38 children, six teachers and other adults and left another 58 injured. Charles Whitman gunned down and killed 14 students and left many more injured from the top of a bell tower at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. Radical preacher Jim Jones murdered his congregation and visitors to his compound in a Guyana jungle by feeding them poisoned Kool Aid and shooting others in a deadly 1978 massacre that left 918 dead.

What is different about contemporary public killings is that they are increasing in frequency since the Columbine horror in April, 1999. In 2013 there were 28 school shootings. This year there has been an average of one school shooting incident every other day. In addition, gunmen have opened fire on crowds in restaurants, office buildings and other public places. It is as if a strange form of insanity is occurring.

America and the world are still shaken by the 911 events where stolen aircraft were used to destroy the World Trade Center towers and strike the Pentagon, leaving an estimated 3,000 people dead.

In other parts of the world, suicide bombers have been walking into train stations, government buildings, crowded buses and even police stations with bombs strapped on their bodies and blowing themselves and everything in sight to smithereens.
Perpetual warfare has been raging. African, Islamic and European tribes have been on killing sprees. The United States has been in an almost constant state of war from the day we won our fight for independence against England. Every new invention, from the steam engine to atomic power has been used to make bigger and more deadly weapons capable of killing large numbers of people.

We have used our ingenuity to design weapons so terrible that we have the capability of destroying all life on our planet at the push of a button. We have satellites that photograph every move that every person makes, listen in on every electronic communication and fire deadly laser beams with pinpoint accuracy. We hunt both man and beast mostly for the joy of killing. But why do we choose to do this? 
We think of ourselves as a civilized society. But as long as we continue to build weapons to kill, we remain no better than our barbaric ancestors.

The history of our system of executing convicted “wrongdoers” is a case in point. In early times criminals were hung on a rope, forced to stand before a firing squad, their heads chopped off, burned alive on a stake, and even thrown into a large pot of boiling water. Other means of executing prisoners included crucifixion, drowning, beating or stoning to death, impalement, and drawing and quartering.

After the advent of electricity, we invented the electric chair. And with the development of chemistry, we have learned how to kill by injecting poisons to prisoners as they lie strapped down on a table. If new ways of killing can be dreamed up, we use them.

In the Tenth Century A.D. people were executed for any crime. By the 1700s, crimes punishable by death included stealing, cutting down a tree and such capital offenses as marrying a Jew, treason, and not confessing to a crime. At one time people were executed for any of a list of 222 crimes.
Believe it or not, things have been slowly improving for people convicted of capital crimes.

There has been a growing effort to eliminate the death penalty in many countries around the world. The United Nations Human Rights Commission passed a resolution in 1999 supporting a worldwide moratorium on executions. The resolution called on nations that still had the death penalty to restrict its use and not impose it on juvenile offenders. Rejecting the resolution were the United States, China, Pakistan, Rwanda and Sudan.

The US Supreme Court suspended the death penalty in 1972 but a court case in 1976 led to approval of guided discretion statutes and the death penalty was reinstated. Since 1976 Texas has led the nation in the number of prisoners put to death. A total of 379 prisoners were executed in Texas compared to 98 in Virginia, 64 in Florida and 43 in North Carolina.

Some states have chosen to abolish the death penalty altogether.

One of the problems facing states that put prisoners to death has been the growing cost of conducting executions. The State of Wyoming is considering a return to the firing squad as a way of cutting costs. One legislator noted that the cost of bullets is much cheaper than building a gas chamber or constructing a gallows.