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The problem with Rick Scott’s pitch to address school shootings

Sen. Rick Scott has a new idea to address school shootings. Is it legal? No. Would it work? No. Does the Florida Republican care? Probably not.


In the wake of deadly mass shootings in schools, Republicans tend to fall into two broad groups. Members of one nihilistic contingent shrug their shoulders, suggest nothing can be done to save lives, and recommend that the United States not bother with any kind of policy conversation.

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee captured this perspective with surprising candor this week. “We’re not gonna fix it,” the GOP congressman told reporters, referring to the scourge of children being massacred. “Criminals are gonna be criminals.”

The other group doesn’t consider public indifference to be politically viable, so they keep up appearances by peddling insincere proposals that no one takes seriously. Take this HuffPost report, for example.

Congress ought to consider a mandatory death penalty for school shooters, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Monday after the latest high-profile mass shooting this year claimed the lives of seven people at an elementary school in Tennessee. “We need to consider an automatic death penalty for school shooters,” Scott said on Twitter. “Life in prison is not enough for the deranged monsters who go into our schools to kill innocent kids & educators.”

Evidently, the idea is predicated on the idea that would-be mass shooters might be deterred by new federal laws related to capital punishment. In other words, the Florida Republican — to the extent that he’s remotely serious about this faux proposal — believes there are well-armed people out there thinking, “I’m inclined to open fire in a school, but if I’m caught and arrested, I’ll be subject to an ‘automatic’ death penalty, so I better not do that after all.”

Even if someone were prepared to find such an idea credible, my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin explained one rather important flaw in Scott’s idea: It’s illegal.

If a defendant is convicted in a death penalty case, then a separate trial is held in which the jury weighs aggravating and mitigating factors, to determine whether to recommend a death sentence. Prosecutors wouldn’t go through that process if they didn’t have to. Indeed, the Supreme Court has struck down mandatory capital punishment on multiple occasions, reiterating that individualized sentencing is needed.

Scott hasn’t addressed such pesky details, probably because he doesn’t take his own especially seriously.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the senator, who’s up for re-election next year, makes a lot of media appearances and frequently talks to reporters. When asked what he intends to do about mass shootings in schools, Scott isn’t comfortable replying, “Uh, nothing.”

So he’s maintaining a pointless pretense by peddling a pseudo-proposal: Scott would address mass shootings in schools with a plan for “automatic” executions for school shooters. Is that legal? No. Would it be effective? No.

Does Scott care? Probably not. He wants a talking point, not a solution.

We keep going through this. After related shootings last year, Republicans and their allies ended up trying to blame, among other things, the multitude of doors at schools, abortion, video games, “secularization,” absentee fathers, marijuana, and the absence of government-imposed school prayer.

The Florida Republican is adding to an unnecessary list because it’s easier than owning up to the fact that new gun laws are needed and the GOP doesn’t want to pass them.