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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

Can a mass shooting act result in the death penalty?

On Behalf of | Jul 8, 2021 | Homicide, Violent Crimes |

The definition of a mass shooting sometimes differs in the number of fatalities that have occurred and where it is done.  

The general idea is that a mass shooting a single incident in which four or more people are shot and killed.  This can happen at one time and one location, or it can involve multiple locations.

It’s important to have a more concrete definition of the term “mass shootings”.  A mass shooting can be a workplace incident, a murder-suicide in a home, gang-related shootings, or a public venue shooting.  

In 2019, a new federal law was proposed to make mass shootings a capital crime resulting in the death penalty.  There is an existing law that imposes the possibility of the death penalty if weapons of mass destruction are utilized, but if a gun is used instead of explosives, there is no federal law about that.

But can all mass shooting incidents result in the death penalty when there are a wide variety of scenarios that constitute a mass shooting?

To differentiate scenarios, other crimes can be attached to mass shootings, such as domestic terrorism or hate crimes, to have the death penalty imposed.

Domestic Terrorism

Domestic terrorism activities are any “acts dangerous to human life and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion”.

Mass shootings that are motivated by ideology would probably fall under this category.  The motivation would be to perform a mass shooting to bring attention to a cause or belief.

Hate Crimes

Hate crimes are defined as “whoever willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.”

But even with hate crimes that result in death, the penalty is up to life in prison with a possibility of a fine being imposed too.  It has also been proposed that the use of the death penalty be used for certain hate crimes as well.

Since the perpetrator(s) life usually ends during the incident of a mass shooting, this calls into question whether the death penalty would really be a deterrent or not.