Expedited executions part of White House response to shootings

Justin Sink and Tyler Pager
Bloomberg

The Justice Department has drafted legislation to expedite the death penalty for those convicted of mass murder and the provision will be included in a larger White House package designed to address recent incidents of gun violence, a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence said Monday.

Pence has been directly involved in conversations with Attorney General William Barr about the death penalty initiative, Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, told reporters traveling with Pence between Poland and Ireland on Monday.

The move comes after a shooting Saturday in Texas left seven people dead and more than a dozen others wounded, adding urgency to the debate over gun safety. The shooting came four weeks after 22 people were killed in the Texas city of El Paso, and less than a month after nine were killed by a shooter in Dayton, Ohio.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence gestures during joint press statements with Polish President Andrzej Duda after their meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Vice President Mike Pence has been directly involved in conversations with Attorney General William Barr about the death penalty initiative, Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, told reporters traveling with Pence between Poland and Ireland on Monday.

President Donald Trump has said the White House would seek to work with Congress on new gun laws, including efforts to strengthen the death penalty and so-called “red flag” legislation that would allow courts to order the preemptive removal of firearms from individuals believed to pose a threat to themselves or others.

On Sunday, Trump said his administration would seek “to identify severely disturbed individuals and disrupt their plans before they strike.”

“This includes strong measures to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous and deranged individuals, and substantial reforms to our nation’s broken mental health system,” Trump said.

But actual progress toward new gun control legislation has proven evasive in the past, with many lawmakers reluctant to run afoul of the National Rifle Association and other powerful gun-rights lobbyists. And Trump has contradicted himself on what his administration plans to do to combat violence, saying in recent weeks both that he would unveil a proposal drafted by aides and that he was waiting to see what Congress produced on its own.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic candidate to contest Trump’s re-election, said Monday that he didn’t believe the death penalty proposal advocated by Pence would have stopped mass shooters like the one responsible for the El Paso attack.

Pence’s proposal was “what you do when you can’t get something done that’s rational – you increase the penalty for the irrational,” Biden said during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

In July, Biden released a criminal justice plan that called for abolishing the death penalty, a policy he advocated for during his decades-long political career.