Virginia officials announced Tuesday that John Allen Muhammad, the serial killer behind the Beltway sniper attacks, will be put to death by lethal injection on Nov. 10 in Virginia. Over a three-week period in October 2002, Muhammad and his underage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area as they randomly shot individuals who were pumping gas, sitting on public benches and simply walking down the street.

For committing these heinous crimes – acts of terrorism in the purest sense of the term – Muhammad faces death in under two weeks. Unless Gov. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) converts his sentence or the U.S. Supreme Court stays his execution, Muhammad will be killed.

While Muhammad should never see the light of day again as long as he lives, he should not be executed. The death penalty, a commonly accepted form of punishment for most of human history, no longer has a role in a just modern society.

I am a believer in moral absolutes, and the non-necessary killing of human beings is always immoral. “Non-necessary” seems like a vague term, but I use it very specifically. There are two instances in which it is necessary and morally permissible for a state to use deadly force. There are times when a state has just cause and needs to wage war in order to protect the lives of its citizens; these engagements, while they will result in the loss of human life, are morally acceptable so long as they are fought within the accepted parameters set forth by just war theory.

The only other time a state may kill a human being is in a situation in which that individual chooses to pose an active threat to innocent people, and the only available recourse to prevent harm to others is to kill the threatening individual. A person may use deadly force in an act of self-defense if that force is necessary for protection.

In modern society, the death penalty is not a necessary and morally acceptable punishment. States are able to securely incarcerate those found guilty by a jury of their peers, even those convicted of capital crimes. We have the technology, manpower and resources to prevent prisoners from ever being freed if they are sentenced to life imprisonment. As such, the public no longer faces any threat from criminals in prison, even one as ruthless and malicious as Muhammad.

Since the public no longer faces a threat from the incarcerated, another way to argue for the necessity and acceptability of the death penalty is to say that it serves as a deterrent to others considering committing a crime and thus indirectly protects the public.

But does the death penalty actually have this effect? Recent econometric analyses examining the relationship between the use of the death penalty and crime rates seem to indicate a slight deterrent effect resulting from the death penalty. Economists state that they do not have a sufficient sample size to reach any type of conclusive result, however. Many legal scholars believe the analyses undertaken by economists are invalid because they are based on flawed premises.

These legal scholars believe that there is no deterrent effect from use of the death penalty. In fact, a significant number believe that there is the exact opposite relationship. They note that areas where the death penalty is used more frequently often have much higher crime rates than those where capital punishment is not permitted, and they theorize that when the state kills citizens, it has a brutalizing effect on society. These scholars believe that over time and with increased exposure to the death penalty, citizens come to believe that killing is, in some instances, acceptable.

The bottom line is clear: The argument that capital punishment is a deterrent is up for debate. Researchers are as divided as they have ever been on the issue, and anyone who says they can definitively show that the death penalty reduces crime is almost certainly being deceitful.

Since we cannot say with even minimal certainty that capital punishment lowers the crime rate overall, and while it is possible that it has the exact opposite effect, I do not believe that the death penalty is in any way a necessary tool for states to use to protect their citizens. As such, the execution of criminals, even those who have committed crimes as disturbing and inhumane as the ones Muhammad committed, should not be allowed in modern society.

We should ask ourselves whether it is morally acceptable to kill a human being in order to show that killing is wrong. I think we will see that our only goal is to exact vengeance by murdering a murderer, since the role of capital punishment as a deterrent cannot be conclusively established. That end is neither necessary nor moral. Muhammad should spend the rest of his life behind bars in undesirable, though humane, conditions; killing him is not the answer.

Brian Shaud is a sophomore in the College.

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