Congress ought to consider a mandatory death penalty for school shooters, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Monday after the latest high-profile mass shooting this year claimed the lives of seven people at an elementary school in Tennessee.
“We need to consider an automatic death penalty for school shooters,” Scott said on Twitter. “Life in prison is not enough for the deranged monsters who go into our schools to kill innocent kids & educators.”
It’s not clear if an automatic death penalty would change the calculus for would-be mass shooters since they often die at the scene of their crimes. On Monday, for instance, police shot and killed the 28-year-old woman who allegedly murdered three children and three adults at a private school in Nashville, Tennessee.
Scott’s suggestion showcases Republicans’ unwillingness to consider gun control measures as a way of reducing gun violence, the leading cause of death among children as of 2020.
President Joe Biden, by contrast, almost immediately repeated his call for a ban on assault weapons.
“The shooter in this situation reportedly had two assault weapons and a pistol,” Biden said Monday at the White House, referring to early information from Nashville police. “I call on Congress again to pass my assault weapons ban.”
A school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last year helped motivate Congress to modestly expand the FBI’s gun background check system and provide funding for mental health services, but lawmakers never seriously entertained a ban on assault rifles, even though they’re often the weapon of choice for mass shooters.
The 18-year-old who used an assault rifle to murder 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde was eventually killed by police.
“Active shooter” incidents have become more frequent in recent years, according to a recent FBI report that counted 61 such incidents in 2021, up from 40 the previous year and 30 the year before that.
Of the 61 mass shooters in 2021, 11 died by suicide, 14 were killed by police and four were killed by another civilian, according to the FBI.
It’s not clear if Scott intends to introduce actual legislation or just wanted to put the death penalty idea out there. It would be highly unlikely to garner enough support to become law.
“Unfortunately, some of these school shooters, basically, this is a way for them to commit suicide,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the leading authors of last year’s bipartisan gun law, told HuffPost. “I’m willing to work with anybody who has a reasonable suggestion. We’ve been able to do that fairly productively on the background check side.”
Scott’s proposal for an automatic death sentence for school shooters might not be constitutional. The Supreme Court said in 1976 that automatic death penalty punishments violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Scott also called for people to pray for all facing the “unimaginable” in Nashville. “This is horrible & must stop,” he said.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.