Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, a Utah firing squad will execute condemned murder Ronnie Lee Gardner shortly after midnight tonight. (Utah outlawed firing squads in 2004, but the state allows an exemption for death-row inmates who beforehand expressed a partiality for the method.)
Before you decide whether or not this is right, consider what Gardner did.
During a court appearance for the murder of Melvyn Otterstrom in 1985, Gardner tried to escape. He failed to do so, but in the process obtained a gun, injured court bailiff George Kirk and killed defense attorney Michael Burdell. According to press reports, Gardner makes no claims of innocence.
Some crimes are so heinous and inherently wrongful that legislatures have the moral responsibility to establish sentencing floors that include life sentences and the death penalty. The majority of Americans recognize this principle as just.
Foes of capital punishment have been very vocal in their opposition. But Gallup opinion polls consistently show that the American public overwhelmingly supports capital punishment. In Gallup's most recent poll, 65 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, while only 31 percent are opposed. Americans have consistently supported capital punishment by a 2-1 ratio in favor.
Americans are wise to do so.
Several studies have shown a link between death penalty executions and decreases in murder rates. In fact, studies done in recent years, using sophisticated statistical methods, consistently demonstrate a strong link between executions and reduced murder incidents.
In short, capital punishment does, in fact, save lives.
Yet, despite strong public support for capital punishment and its clear deterrent effect, federal, state and local officials must continually ensure that its implementation rigorously upholds constitutional protections, such as due process and equal protection of the law. However, the criminal process should not be abused to prevent the lawful imposition of the death penalty in appropriate capital cases.
Moral indignation is an appropriate response to inherently wrongful conduct carried out intentionally by Ronnie Lee Gardner. While the goal of lower crime through deterrence is worthwhile, lawmakers need to place special emphasis on the moral gravity of offenses in determining the proportionality of punishment.
The impending execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner is morally just, and may save the lives of others.
David B. Muhlhausen is a senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in AOL News