We Need Some Cruel and Unusual Punishment

We Need Some Cruel and Unusual Punishment

© David Burton 2017


     The words, “cruel and unusual punishment” were supposedly first used in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. These same words, “cruel and unusual punishment” were later employed in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution – part of our Bill of Rights.

     The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.(Ref. 1)

     Has the time come in these United States to reconsider whether or not the Eighth Amendment should be rescinded and “cruel and unusual punishment” should be inflicted upon certain criminals here in the United States? Consider a miniscule sampling of recent news stories about violence on the streets of Boston near where I live.

     “A young boy was shot in the lower back outside 12-14 Copeland St. in Roxbury about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, but he is expected to survive, officials said.
     “{The} Boston Police Commissioner . . . said . . . that the child’s father believed himself to be the target. The boy, who is about 5 or 6, was leaving the house with his family when he was shot. . .”
     “Two people between the ages of about 18 and 20 were observed leaving the scene . . .” (Ref. 2)

     “. . . Boston Police Officers . . . responded to . . . a report of a child shot. Upon arrival {a} 3-year-old was found lying on the hallway floor suffering from a gunshot wound. The child was rushed . . . to Boston Medical Center where he was pronounced dead . . .
     “Preliminary investigation shows that the child's father answered the door for someone who claimed to be a police officer. The child's father apparently partially opened the door and was confronted by a suspect who fired one shot into the home. {The} 3- year-old, an innocent victim, was standing behind his father in the hallway and was struck.” (Ref. 3)
     “Boston Police responded to a call about a person shot . . . {and} found {a} little girl with two apparent graze wounds to her shoulder and side.
     “They said the girl’s injuries were not life-threatening. She was taken to an area hospital for treatment.
      - - -
     “. . . the girl was outside . . . with a bunch of other people when she was hit by bullet fragments.
     “Police said a dark gray Honda Infiniti drove by the apartments and opened up {firing} 15 rounds on the crowd outside.” (Ref. 4)      “On 1 July 2017, “Four people were hospitalized after two different shootings in a span of just a few minutes in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.” (Ref. 5)

     In 2016, it was reported that the number of people killed or wounded by gun violence in the city of Boston, Massachusetts was: Wounded by gun violence – 192; Killed by gun violence – 37.[6]

     Continuing into the first four months of the year 2017, it was reported that the number of people killed or wounded by gun violence in the city of Boston, Massachusetts was: Wounded by gun violence – 52; Killed by gun violence – 9.[6]

     Reports of gun violence come in every hour of every day through the year here in America. Still more victims of violence are killed or injured with knives and other weapons. But gun violence has some unique characteristics. With guns: the perpetrator need not come near or into contact with the victim(s); guns, all-too-often, can kill and injure innocent bystanders; guns, particularly, automatic weapons, can kill or wound a multitude of victims in a matter of minutes or even seconds; bullets from guns can pass through victims and structures and kill or injure others. Knives, bats, fists and other similar weapons do not possess the lethal features that allow victims to be killed at a distance and so quickly in such large numbers.

     In the United States, as of June 2016, the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people — the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year or about 10,000 per year.[7]

     The city of Chicago get lots of press about the number of shootings that occur in that city. “People are getting shot in Chicago in alarmingly high numbers: 3,500 as of mid-October {2016}, 1,000 more than at the same time last year. Almost 600 of the victims died.
     “Chicago has become synonymous with gun violence, attracting attention from the press, politicians, and advocates on both sides of the gun debate. . .
     “. . . For the sheer number of victims of violent crime, no other city comes close. In 2015, Chicago recorded 478 homicides, more than in any other American city. New York, with 352 homicides, recorded the second-highest number of homicides, followed by Baltimore with 344. Almost everyone who was killed in Chicago that year — 93 percent — was shot to death.
     “But numbers offer a limited view of a city’s gun violence problem. Chicago, with roughly 2.7 million residents, is the third-most populous city in the country. On a per capita basis, its shooting epidemic is not nearly as severe as the violence in many other large American cities.
      - - -
     “Chicago’s homicide rate over the last five years was 16.4 per 100,000 residents. In St. Louis and New Orleans, the homicide rate from 2010 to 2015 was three times as high, on average.
     “Chicago’s rate of non-fatal shootings was 12th highest of 68 cities in 2015, with a rate of 88.9 per 100,000 . . . St. Louis led the list with a rate of 660 per 100,000 — nearly seven times as high as Chicago — followed by Memphis and Oakland.” (Ref. 8)

     We often hear the mantra of gun enthusiasts that “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people.” While that phrase may have a kernel of truth, the fact remains that more than 30,000 people here in the United States are killed with guns every year – murders, suicides, and accidents. Guns in America are all too accessible, have too much rapid killing capacity and need to be much more forcefully restricted. While simply passing more stringent gun laws and greatly reducing the number of guns in the hands of Americans will not totally end gun violence, it will start the process of getting guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally deranged, street gangs, and others inclined to violence and it will help to reduce or eliminate drive by shootings, the killing and wounding of innocent bystanders and children.

     A major, if not primary, part of the overall solution to reducing the number of victims of violence in America is to reduce the number of guns on our streets. How do we do this? The answer “starts with repealing {or redefining} the Second Amendment {to the U.S. Constitution}. Next, we have to get our legislators to stop succumbing to the bullying demands of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun fanatics that keep guns in the hands of those who have little to no regard for human life and suffering. Finally, we need to begin the process of changing the weak federal laws that allow almost anyone access to a wide variety of deadly {gun} weapons.” (Ref. 9)

     Another element in the war against violence in America should be the introduction of cruel and unusual punishment for those who chose to ignore the rules of human decency and right of all Americans to live without the constant fear of becoming a victim to someone who has no regard for human life or the rights of others. True, our Bill of Rights (and hence our Constitution) prohibit the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments, but the Constitution can be amended to reflect the necessities of the times. Such has been done in the past.

     What are some of the cruel and unusual punishments that could be considered to penalize those who have no respect for the lives and safety of others nor the rules of common decency? The number and range of severity of such punishments is quite large: hard labor, flogging, hanging (and other forms of slow death), stoning, burning at the stake, being fed to wild animals (as in ancient Rome), etc.

     Many of these forms of punishment would clearly offend modern sensibilities and the bleeding hearts among us. They would rather put up with the criminal mayhem now occurring throughout our country. Still, those of us with less tolerant attitudes towards criminals and crimes might want to look into some less controversial means or reducing crime, criminal acts, and violence or, at least, getting violent offenders off our streets. For example: imprison anyone caught in the illegal possession of a gun for a mandatory long amount of time. While imprisoned, make the offender perform hard labor that pays for most, if not all, of his/her incarceration costs.

     We need to tighten up our court system to prevent criminals from getting off with slaps on the wrists. We need to get potential violent offenders into jail before they kill and maim, rather than after the fact, and judges need more incentives and tools to imprison these potential violent offenders early in their criminal careers.

     Some among us feel that the American criminal justice system has tilted too far toward protecting the rights of the criminal at the expense of the victims and that it has shifted too far toward rehabilitation at the expense of punishment. These people would like to see the rights of the victims given first priority while criminals are given much harsher punishment than at present – including “cruel and unusual punishment”. This is particularly true for repeat violent offenders. It’s high time that criminals pay for their offenses, and pay dearly, in spite of the pleadings of the ACLU and the defense lawyers who make their money by getting criminals off the hook for their misbehavior. Equal rights under the law should apply to those who obey the law and not to those who violate it. The pendulum must swing back to favor the law-abiding and not the law-breaker. Recent history has shown that being kind to the lawless has not led to a reduction in criminal violence. If anything, criminal violence has escalated as the bleeding hearts and liberal element in our society have pushed for more and more lenient treatment of the violent element in American society. To these liberals, criminal behavior is always the fault of someone or something other than the criminal - our society, the criminal’s mother or father, a poor environment, etc. To these liberals, the criminal is never responsible for his/her actions, it’s always someone else’s fault and therefore, punishment should be minimized or eliminated. Unfortunately, the liberal approach isn’t working.

     Maybe the time has come to return to the days of old - the days of chain gangs, floggings, public executions and so forth. Our recent experience with societal tolerance of bad behavior, criminal coddling, an empathy with offenders rather than with the victims, along with a focus on rehabilitation and an aversion to punishment, has failed to show any significant positive results in reducing violent crime in America. A change is called for. Maybe that change should be the reintroduction of “cruel and unusual punishment”.


  1. U.S. Constitution › Eighth Amendment, Legal Information Institute; Cornell University, Accessed 5 July 2017.
  2. Young boy shot in Roxbury expected to recover, Jeremy C. Fox and Reena Karasin, Boston Globe, 3 April, 2017.
  3. Child Killed in Shooting, Office of Media Relations, City of Boston.gov, 25 January 2002.
  4. 8-Year-Old Girl Shot in Jamaica Plain, Karyn Regal, CBS Boston, 25 June 2017.
  5. Chicago Isn’t Even Close to Being the Gun Violence Capital of the United States, Francesca Mirabile, The Trace, 21 October 2016.
  6. A WITNESS AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE AND INEQUALITY, First Church in Cambridge, Accessed 2 July 2017.
  7. Compare These Gun Death Rates: The U.S. Is in a Different World, By Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz, The New York Times, 13 June 2016.
  8. Chicago Isn’t Even Close to Being the Gun Violence Capital of the United States, Francesca Mirabile, The Trace, 21 October 2016.
  9. The Second Amendment in 2017, David Burton, Son of Eliyau: Article 297, 1 June 2017.


  3 August 2017 {Article 300; Undecided_55}    
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