A common argument used against capital punishment goes like this: if killing is wrong, then killing by the state as a form of punishment is hypocritical. Activists refer to capital punishment as "state-sanctioned murder," and a popular slogan appearing on their signs asks, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?"
This argument seems to give opponents of capital punishment the moral "high ground." Without a rational reply, the argument seems valid, even if the vast majority still maintain their support of capital punishment for purely emotional reasons. But a careful analysis reveals that the argument is based on fundamentally flawed reasoning that leads to absurd conclusions.
Because murder committed by individuals is wrong, goes the argument, so is execution of murderers by the government. The implied premise is that the government has no legitimate moral authority to impose any punishment that individuals are prohibited from imposing on others. But if that premise is valid, our entire system of criminal justice is immoral.
Take imprisonment as an example. Clearly, imprisonment of one individual by another is both morally and legally wrong. Is imprisonment as a form of punishment by the government therefore also immoral? Is imprisonment essentially "state-sanctioned kidknapping"? If so, then anarchy is apparently the only moral form of "government."
The time has come to stop letting such nonsense go unchallenged. The counter to the rhetorical question posed by the demonstrators is, "We kill guilty people who killed innocent people to show that killing innocent people is wrong."