Rod, I think you misconstrued my point, or maybe I miscommunicated it. When you say cops need guns because that is a matter of necessity, I agree with you. But it’s still a matter of making choices. Police could use non-lethal weapons to stop criminals which would work 95% of the time. This would guarantee no suspects were accidentally killed or deliberately murdered by police. A good thing to be sure. The problem is that in a few cases more cops would die (and the numbers of dead cops would rise as more criminals learned that owning and using a gun was the best insurance against arrest). We decide to err on the side of allowing cops to protect themselves with lethal weapons for these and other reasons.
These sorts of cost-benefit analyses come up in every aspect of life. We spend only so much on hospitals or free drugs when we know that if we doubled that amount thousands of lives might be saved. We implement regulations which say a rollover rate of 1 in a million is acceptable, when we could say 1 in a billion is better, even though that might bankrupt the auto industry. It’s not just budgetary economics, it’s making choices about who lives and who dies. You might respond — as many readers have — that the government doesn’t intentionally kill X person with AIDS or Y person who bought a Montero. That’s true. But we also don’t willingly kill any innocent people on death row either. In fact, we try very very very hard to make sure we only execute people who deserve it. We try so hard, in fact, that we don’t know of a single innocent person who’s ever been executed. And we have lots of names of real people who died because the government chose a rollover rate of one in a million versus one in a billion or who would have lived if a doctor made it to them quicker or if a hospital had been a little closer to home. You say it’s a reasonable alternative to put murderers away for life. Well that takes money from saving more deserving lives too.
Lastly, I think people who make Ryan’s “demon of error” argument against the death penalty make a fundamental mistake of logic. If I have a batch of cookies and I discover that a piece of broken glass ended up in the batter, I have to throw away the whole batch because I don’t know which cookie the glass might be in. That’s Ryan’s argument against the death penalty. He says we don’t know who might be innocent, therefor we have to let everyone off. Well, that’s absurd. Just it’s okay to eat a cookie if we know there’s no glass in it, we can execute someone if we know he is guilty. We may not know for sure that everyone is guilty, but we know for damn sure that some of them are — and those are the one we can execute with a clear conscience if we believe in the death penalty. The guy who was caught with a knife to the throat of a little girl after raping her sisters and murdering her brother was guilty. He even said so. But Ryan let him off because he wasn’t sure whether other people on Death Row might have been innocent. If you believe in the death penalty, that’s moronic. If you don’t believe in the death penalty it doesn’t matter what the guy did, you’re against executing people period.
So, the ultimate test is a simple one: Are you in favor of executing the people we know are guilty or not? The rest is commentary.