Throughout history religion and tyrannical dictators have experimented with various means of controlling human nature with varying degrees of failure. There are universal truths regarding the way humanity has behaved down through the ages which is why that behavior is attributed to “human nature,” and it is why even the most strident religion is incapable of reversing or retarding human behavior. There are just some actions, especially those borne of emotions, that are impossible to regulate no matter the deterrent or reward system to promote what society regards as acceptable behavior.
Although it is inherently evil for one group, or one individual, to attempt to control anyone, there is no doubt that civilized societies need some kind of deterrent or reward system to contain dangerous human behavior to protect people. Human traits like greed, religious passion, and unrestrained anger are the underpinning of all manner of “crimes against society” making punitive measures a necessary element of any cultural construct. As antiquity has shown, despite severe punishment for many bad behaviors, human nature can never be completely controlled or deterred. If that were the case there would be no crime and the entirety of humankind would serve the most severe religion under pain of “holy” gruesome methods of execution.
In another instance of the Trump administration enacting policies that are historical failures, the Reagan-era “just say no” drug policy is being value-added with a call to “just kill drug dealers.” The death penalty for dealing drugs is allegedly Trump and Sessions’ primary tool of choice to address the legal prescription drug (opioid) epidemic.
That “just kill them” plan typifies stupid and blood-lust, and it is likely a result of Trump’s adoration of Philippines’ murderous president Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte is notorious for his boasts of personally committing extra-judicial executions for suspected drug dealers. Those boasts excited and incited Trump to tell Duterte what a great job he’s doing by killing citizens he suspects of dealing or using drugs. Still, despite the thousands of executions, drug users and dealers are thriving in the Philippines.
It is not clear on what official grounds Sessions and Trump are basing their decision to execute drug dealers, but if it is as a deterrent, it has shown to be a monumental failure around the globe and domestically. In some extremely harsh nations the death penalty has not stopped the use or trade of ‘illicit’ drugs, so expecting it to stop the use and trade of legal prescription drugs is folly. Let’s get one thing clear right now; the death penalty is not going to do anything to address a public health issue like the “opioid epidemic;” the stated reason Sessions and Trump want the death penalty. For dog’s sake, many American states have the death penalty for homicide and execute convicts regularly, and yet those states still have homicides like states lacking capital punishment.
The threat of death is not going to change human nature whether it is a greedy off-the-books gun dealer selling legal battlefield weapons, a desperate addict, or greedy drug dealer selling legal prescription pain killers like opioids. There is another inconvenient truth that neither Sessions nor Trump comprehend; drug dealing in America is not a capital crime at the federal or state level. Of the 41 federal laws calling for the death penalty, only two have a direct connection to drugs and both require the commission of murder to earn the death penalty.
One is under 18 U.S. Code § 924 calling for the death penalty for “Murder committed by the use of a firearm during a crime of violence or a drug-trafficking crime.” And 18 U.S. Code § 36 includes capital punishment for “Murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting.” (author bold)
In both “drug-related” cases a murder has to have been committed in order to qualify for the death penalty. And that little fact is noteworthy because the Supreme Court has ruled that “the death penalty is unconstitutional for crimes against individuals in which no one is killed.” That opinion put to rest a 1994 “drug kingpin” idea calling for the death penalty for crime bosses connected to criminal enterprises dealing in large quantities of illicit drugs, even if no-one was killed.
Sessions announcing the death penalty for drug dealers as an means of dealing with what experts say is a bonafide public-health issue, besides not fixing the problem; “is proven unwise, costly, ineffective and often counterproductive.” Experts and half-sane human beings comprehend that it also does nothing to address the real problem plaguing America; the epidemic of legal prescription drug addiction. As the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, Dr. Andrew Kolodny said:
“We can’t execute our way out of this epidemic. The reality is, most people who are selling drugs are suffering from opioid addiction, and they sell drugs to support their own habit.”
Dr. Guohua Li is professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology at Columbia University and he concurred with Dr. Kolodny:
“When I start hearing about the death penalty, it just seems to me we’re going in the wrong direction.
Criminal justice can play a complementary role in addressing the opioid crisis, but relying on criminal justice system to address public health problems has proven unwise, costly, ineffective and often counterproductive.”
A recent Pew Charitable Trust study released just two weeks ago supports both experts’ arguments; and it reveals that harsher penalties for drug dealers or addicts will not fix the problem. The study revealed that:
“Harsher penal sanctions had no measurable impact on drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests. The data reinforce a large body of prior research that cast doubt on the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. The evidence strongly suggests that policymakers should pursue alternative strategies that research shows work better and cost less.”
If Sessions and Trump need to see some capital punishment to try addressing Americans dying unnecessarily, they should call for the death penalty for gun dealers. Particularly those “off-the-book” types who sell assault weapons that exist for one reason and one reason only; to assault and kill human beings. AR15s and AK47s were not created to assault ducks, pheasant, rabbits, deer, baby seals, bear cubs or any other alleged game animal; they exist to assault and kill human beings. But no-one is suggesting the death penalty for gun dealers because they are selling as legal a product as any dealer or addict selling FDA-approved prescription drugs containing opioids. Opioids, by the way, that have been studied and developed to serve a useful medical purpose; relieving pain and suffering.
The idea of executing people over a public health issue like an epidemic is barbaric, but so is Trump and his Old Testament, mean-god acolyte Jeff Sessions. However, barbaric or not, it is a fairly good sign that there will be no legitimate policies enacted to address an epidemic the medical profession and big pharmaceutical companies are culpable of creating and perpetuating.
Remember, whether Sessions or Trump admit or like it or not, addiction is a human medical affliction that is not going to be deterred with the threat of death any more than capital punishment deters the greed driving “big” drug dealers; or the administration traitors adhering to a hostile foreign power undermining America’s democracy. Treason, by the way, is one of the 41 federal capital crimes that DOES NOT require an unwarranted death (murder) to impose the death penalty.
Trump was enamored with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s boasts that he personally “executed” people “suspected” of being involved with drugs and he wants to show Duterte that he too is a tough guy. Something Trump and Sessions may not be aware of is that there are 33 foreign nations with the death penalty for trafficking (smuggling) illicit drugs, but “very, very few” actually impose the penalty because it is ineffective. And it is noteworthy that each one of those 33 foreign nations all have one thing in common, even the very, very few that are actually killing drug dealers and users; they still have plenty of people selling, smuggling and using “illicit drugs.”
No matter how harsh laws are, they will never alter human nature and the people selling legal prescription drugs to sate their greed or an addiction are behaving like humans. Threatening to kill the people selling drugs is not going to solve “a medical condition or an addiction epidemic,” it just won’t now or ever.
It is now more apparent than ever that Trump or Sessions have no will or intent to solve a legitimate public health issue, but if they really want to kill purveyors of death and destruction, they can call for the death penalty for gun dealers.