Death Penalty

An Illinois Lawmaker Wants to Reinstate the Death Penalty to Deter Shootings

Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.


An Illinois lawmaker has filed a bill to reinstate the death penalty in hopes that it will deter violent crime, such as mass shootings.

Rep. David McSweeney (R–Barrington Hills) filed HB 3915 last Thursday. Co-sponsored by Rep. Andrew Chesney (R–Freeport), the bill aims to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished in the state by former Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, in March 2011.

"The intent of the General Assembly in enacting this Act and reenacting the death penalty is to have the death penalty serve as a deterrent to violent crime with the specific goal of reducing mass shootings, serial killings, and gun violence," the bill reads. "The General Assembly has confidence in the ability of crime laboratory biochemical testing, including DNA testing, to reduce or eliminate wrongful criminal convictions in Illinois, including, but not limited to, cases involving the death penalty."

McSweeney told the Daily Herald, "We still have violence and violent criminals in Illinois, and I hope we get [the death penalty] back. We need to get tough on crime."

Anti-death penalty activists disagree.

"Illinois itself saw 12 people exonerated from its death row before the state ultimately did away with this broken, big government failure. It would be foolish to think the system would run any better were it to be reinstated. Lawmakers should instead focus on programs that actually work to deter crime; the death penalty isn't one of them," Hannah Cox, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, tells Reason.

Cox notes that capital punishment is an "ineffective system that frequently risks innocent life."

John Hanlon, executive director of the Illinois Innocence Project, told WTVO, "The death penalty is not an effective deterrent…The chances of making a mistake with an innocent person, I don't care how many steps are in place, there is always a chance of an innocent person being sent to death row, and that should be everyone's ultimate nightmare."

Hanlon added that the death penalty is, more often than not, just a political tool for politicians to be able to label themselves "tough on crime."

While McSweeney might not have much bipartisan support in his own state, his desire to reinstate the death penalty as a violent crime deterrent is also having a moment at the federal government level.

The Trump administration announced in July that it would resume capital punishment. Shortly after, President Trump directed the Department of Justice to propose legislation that would ensure death penalty sentences for mass murderers and people convicted of hate crimes. Trump urged for "capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay."

These calls ignore the realities of the death penalty, including its high cost, the significant threshold for error, and, most glaringly, its failure to actually deter criminals.

Related video: Three Reasons to Get Rid of the Death Penalty

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  1. Rep. David McSweeney (R–Barrington Hills) filed HB 3915 last Thursday. Co-sponsored by Rep. Andrew Chesney (R–Freeport)...

    Republican lawmakers never failing to remember that criminal justice is the biggest government of all.

    1. With the death penalty, by far, the smallest component.

  2. Wow! Since the two incidents in Texas, one in which the cop involved was actually convicted and sentenced for murder and the other in which the cop has been charged and likely to be convicted, I have been cautiously optimistic about the tide turning, but, damn, I have to admit that capital punishment might be just a bit of an over-reaction. I suppose Illinois may know best how bad the problem is and what it might take to get it under control, but I'd think sticking a few cops in jail before jumping straight to the executions might be a better start on stopping the shootings.

    1. Well, shit, guess I should have read the article first - seems like I was a little quick on the trigger there with that comment. But I swear to God, that headline jumped right at me! Procedures were followed in firing off my comment and at least I made it back home safely and isn't that what really matters? We're good now, right?

    2. The criminal cop is an incredibly small component to the police group.

      They are the vital cog in societal self defense.

  3. FWIW, There was a man who came to Illinois and murdered a woman after ascertaining that Illinois did not have the death penalty. I can't find the link I seem to remember he was Canadian.

    1. Whatever the reasons to support the death penalty may be, deterrence is not one of them. Even in places like Texas, it will take at least 10 years of appeals before execution, assuming the prosecutor doesn’t offer a plea deal. Serial killers and especially mass shooters know that they are likely to face death and either don’t care or it’s part of their plan.

    2. I knew someone would bring that up, it is literally only case I've ever heard of in the entire history of the death penalty where it may have served as a deterrent, but I don't think its good enough to risk all the mistakes that come with allowing the government to execute people

      1. NoVa & Kevin:

        The deterrent effect of the death penalty, as all other severe sanctions, has never been negated and cannot be.

        There are many documented, individual cases of deterrence, which support a general deterrent effect, as well as 24, post 1996, US based studies finding for general death penalty deterrence, as detailed elsewhere within the comments.

    3. Yep. True story.

      There is no doubt that the death penalty deters some, just as all sanctions do.

      The fact is that we cannot know how many.

  4. Violent crime has been declining for decades and mass shootings accounted for only 0.13% of all homicides from 1982 to 2018 so what's this going to solve?

    Illinois had the death penalty for decades and it didn't reduce violent crime, nor did making Chicago a gun free zone for 28 years. But lets keep trying the same things and expecting different results.

    1. LC:

      You cannot measure deterrence by looking at gross crime rates.

      Deterrence is measured by there being less criminal activity with police and sanctions than without them.

      There is no doubt.

  5. If you can't do something, say something?

    Total bullshit. There cannot be a mass shooting in Illinois, they have common sense gun control.
    Surely just because someone will ignore a law against murder, they would never ignore a law against mass shooting just because of a little death penalty.
    Oh, wait. The mass murders are batshit crazy and expect to die anyway.

    1. Yep, it a duh.

  6. The death penalty does not work.
    It did not deter John Wayne Gacy from killing other people once he was executed any more than it deterred Ted Bundy or any other violent criminal from killing other people once they were executed.
    Plus, the taxpayers should give more of their ill-gotten gains to the state to keep these paradigms of society alive so we can all rid ourselves of all this nefarious excess capital we have. Plus, these violent criminals should have access to free medical, dental, legal care as well as a college education, cable TV, free rides to Disneyland, tickets to NFL games, and a pension.
    That's only fair considering what they did to their victims as any sane and humane person would conclude.

    1. wow, the straw man is strong with this one. Its actually insanely cheaper to throw a person in a cage for the rest of their life than the costs associated with a death penalty case. Everything else you are ranting about is gibberish from what I can tell. Literally the only defense any more for the death penalty is retribution. There is a really good reason for this. Its untestable. All the other arguments for it (e.g., deterrence, cost, etc.) have been tested and found severely lacking. Proponents can only fall back on philosophical arguments now about what a person deserves (as well as whatever gibberish Uncle Jay is prattling on about).

      1. JoeJoe:

        Justice is the foundation for all sanctions.

        I suggest you fact check/vet the deterrence and cost studies, as I have, and as detailed within the links I provided within these comments.

        Then, get back to us.

    2. UJ:

      Deterrence is based within some being deterred. Not all.

      The deterrent effect of any major sanction has never been negated and cannot be.

  7. Will they accept torture confessions as evidence?

  8. Seeing most shooters have already decide to die in the incident, or take their own life at the end, I am not so sure this would be an effective deterrent.

    1. Mass shooters, no.

      Some others, yes.

  9. Zuri:

    You Close:

    "These calls ignore the realities of the death penalty, including its high cost, the significant threshold for error, and, most glaringly, its failure to actually deter criminals."

    You ignore:

    1) there is no reason for the death penalty to cost more than life without parole, as detailed (1).

    2) The risk to innocents rises when we allow murderers to live.

    3) The glaring deterrence failure is no such thing.

    The deterrent effect of the death penalty/executions, as with all other serious sanctions, has never been negated and never can be.

    You need to vet.

  10. Zuri:


    1) Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
    at prodpinnc

    2) The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
    at prodpinnc

    3) Deterrence, Death Penalties & Executions
    at prodpinnc

  11. Zuri:

    REASON appears to toe the anti death penalty party line.

    It does no service when you refuse to fact check/ vet the facts and refuse to use reason.

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