Donald Trump was in Pennsylvania on Saturday for a rally to bolster the campaign of Rick Saccone, who is running in a special election to replace disgraced GOP congressman Tim Murphy. During his wide-ranging speech, the president brought up the idea of executing drug dealers.
Trump isn’t the first person to propose giving the death penalty to drug dealers, and among some conservatives, it’s a popular idea. Dealers are already criminally liable for the deaths they cause, but one assumes that instead of charging a dealer with negligent homicide or manslaughter, the president wants to make it a first-degree murder offense.
Trump said that allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers — an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping — is “a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don’t know if this country’s ready for it.”
“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump asked. “The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness. When you catch a drug dealer, you’ve got to put him away for a long time.”
It was not the first time Trump had suggested executing drug dealers. Earlier this month, he described it as a way to fight the opioid epidemic. And on Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was considering policy changes to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
But on Saturday his call for executing drug dealers got some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the night. As Trump spoke about policies on the issue in China and Singapore, dozens of people nodded their heads in agreement. “We love Trump!” one man yelled. A woman shouted: “Pass it!”
Despite what you might think, the death penalty for drug smuggling and drug dealing is fairly common. Thirty two countries currently have such a law on their books — and in six countries, the sentence is mandatory.
But while drug dealers are criminally liable for the deaths they cause directly — i.e. overdoses or allergic reactions — the notion of executing them turns the idea of individual responsibility on its head. We hold people who sell guns that others use to kill criminally liable, but we don’t charge them with first-degree murder. Why not? Because guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Drug dealers sell addictive substances that can lead to the physical and mental deterioration of an individual, eventually leading to death or suicide. But isn’t buying the drugs in the first place an individual’s choice? And no one is holding a gun to their head forcing them to ingest the poison.
The death penalty has not proven to be a deterrent for murder. I doubt it would act as a deterrent to keep people from selling drugs.