EDITORIAL: Wagner talks tough, says nothing

The York Dispatch
Scott Wagner, a York County state senator and the president of waste-hauler PennWaste Inc., answers questions from the panel during a debate between Republican Gubernatorial candidates at Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

Scott Wagner’s confrontational style was on full display during a testy GOP gubernatorial debate in Harrisburg last week, but a “bold message” he delivered just a few days earlier was conspicuously absent.

During a Monday, Feb. 26, appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club, the state senator from Spring Garden Township added his 2 cents to the national debate on gun control stoked by the latest school massacre:

He said he would introduce a bill mandating the death penalty for any school shooters who kill others.

More:Wagner wants mandatory death penalty for school shooters

GOP gubernatorial debate becomes confrontational

“I have a very bold message for any coward who is deranged enough to consider attacking our children at school: when I am governor, these cowards will pay the ultimate price,” Wagner said.

Just to be clear, in case anyone missed his point:

“If someone kills one of our children, we will kill them. … No plea bargains, no life sentences and no mercy.”

Now, that certainly is bold and might even sound good to some people, coming on the heels of yet another mass shooting of school children.

Why didn’t anyone ever suggest that before?

Because it’s unconstitutional and has been for more than 40 years.

Robert Dunham, of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled it unconstitutional for any system to impose the death penalty without allowing the jury to consider any factors that might call for mercy.

Wagner might as well suggest lining up suspects in front of a firing squad even before the niceties of a trial.

Our justice system doesn't work that way, for good reason, and we're not going to throw due process out the window just because Wagner and his supporters might like the sound of it.

Suggesting a mandatory death sentence is just as helpful to the epidemic of mass shootings as Wagner’s famous, earth-moving-closer-to-the-sun assertion is to the climate change crisis.

John Oliver pokes fun at Wagner on 'Last Week Tonight'

Neither is based in reality and both imply nothing can be done to prevent the problems.

It’s worth noting Wagner made his pledge as President Trump and other Republicans were finally showing a willingness to buck the National Rifle Association and at least consider commonsense proactive gun-control measures.

Those measures include raising the minimum age to buy weapons and banning accessories like so called “bump stocks” — which allow semi-automatic weapons to function like machine guns  and high-capacity magazines.

There also is a growing number of major corporations that decided not to wait on lawmakers, taking it upon themselves to stop selling weapons or to raise the minimum wage to purchase one.

Even more businesses are severing ties with the NRA, which has come to be seen as the main roadblock to stronger gun laws in America.

At the gubernatorial candidates debate Thursday, Feb, 28, neither the senator nor health care systems consultant Paul Mango — dubbed “lying Paul” by Wagner — would pledge not to accept NRA campaign contributions.

Only attorney Laura Ellsworth had the courage to make that promise.

Yet none of the candidates advocated for stronger gun control.

While there wasn’t a peep from Wagner on his “bold” message during the debate (someone must have told him about the Constitution), he did repeat his pledge to put armed, trained officers in every school.

If Wagner is serious, he is suggesting creating a police force of about 3,000 officers, comparable to the Pennsylvania State Police’s 4,719 troopers.

And just how would he pay for such a massive undertaking?

Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for Wagner's campaign, said his boss "believes that when he takes office and institutes zero-based budgeting, he will find the savings necessary."


Since we're familiar with some of the other things Wagner claims to believe, count us skeptical.

It seems to us he has nothing of substance to offer to this deadly serious debate.