North Carolina state Sen. Erica Smith said she believes the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on people of color and poor people and remains opposed to it in most cases.
But Smith, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, is open to capital punishment for convicted killers in mass shootings, like the ones this weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“We can’t continue to have mass shooters and white supremacists believe they can get away,” Smith told The News & Observer on Tuesday. “This is one thing I agree with the president on. For the immediate time, we may need to look at the consideration of looking at this in terms of capital punishment.”
President Donald Trump asked the Department of Justice to propose legislation allowing the death penalty for “those who commit hate crimes and mass murders” during his 10-minute address to the nation Monday. The department announced last month that it would resume capital punishment after a nearly two-decade break and scheduled executions for five individuals.
Smith, who represents six counties in northeastern North Carolina in the state Senate, said the manifesto of the El Paso shooter included instructions on how to surrender quickly. He was arrested at the scene. She said some shooters want to “live to see your success.” The shooter in Dayton was killed at the scene.
“We’re going to have to do something, have some harsher consequences,” said Smith, who is African American.
A now-deleted tweet posted to Smith’s Twitter account over the weekend said “perhaps death by firing squad prevent future occurrences of this type of senseless killing by such violent crimes.” Smith wrote on Twitter that her account was hacked, but said Tuesday that “there are several people who tweet from my account” and the tweet was not supposed to appear on her feed.
“There is a need for an extreme approach to this, but not to the point of a firing squad,” she said.
Smith is also in favor of an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, restricting possession of guns by people with mental illnesses, more funding for mental health services and monitoring of white supremacy websites.
What other candidates are saying
Smith is one of three Democrats running for the nomination for the seat held by Republican Thom Tillis. There are three Republicans, including Tillis, running for the Republican nomination.
Democratic candidate Trevor Fuller, a Mecklenburg County commissioner, said conversations about what to do after a mass shooting miss the mark.
“By punishing somebody after the fact, that’s going to prevent the next one — I think that’s wrong thinking,” Fuller said.
Fuller said he supports banning assault weapons, universal background checks for all gun sales and designating gun violence as a public health crisis — thus funding health organizations to study the root causes.
“Words right now are completely inadequate. I’m all out of words. Words haven’t done anything for us. We need to take action,” Fuller said.
Democrat Cal Cunningham said in a statement that “condolences are not enough.”
“This is a moral moment, and we need leaders who will act,” he said. “I believe we can protect our communities by passing legislation like expanding background checks and banning the sale of high-capacity magazines.”
Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis, said the senator believes “we need to strike the right balance between keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and not infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Keylin said Tillis supported strengthening the federal background check system and wants federal agencies to have more resources for managing and assessing threats from domestic terrorists.
Republican Garland Tucker said much of the same of the balance between keeping guns away from those that shouldn’t have them and infringing on the rights of citizens to bear arms. He did not call for new measures.
“More effective enforcement of existing background checks, more effective mental health detection and treatment, and heightened public awareness of the dangerous effects of media violence offer the greatest promise to reduce mass shootings,” Tucker said in a statement to McClatchy.
Sandy Smith, who is running for the Republican nomination, said she does not support “red flag legislation,” that would allow authorities to take or deny guns from people with warning signs of violence. Nor does she support allowing social media companies to report users who show signs of violence.
“We need to focus on God, fatherhood, reducing drug use, & stopping lies from the outrage-machine Fake News,” Smith wrote in a letter to supporters.
She said Trump is capable of leading the nation out of the crisis.
“I have faith in our good and decent President to lead us through this crisis,” she wrote.
Many Democrats have blamed Trump’s rhetoric — particularly about immigrants — with helping lead to violence.
Fuller, who is also African American, said it is hard to ignore the links between the violent language of the president and the violence that occurred, particularly in El Paso where the shooter wrote that he was targeting Latinos.
Smith referenced a May campaign rally where Trump laughed after an attendee said the only way to stop immigrants from coming to the United States was to “shoot them.”
“The comments our president has made in front of crowds promoting violence, it’s unconscionable. It’s un-American. And it should embarrass every Christian who professes to believe in the humanity of people,” said Smith, who is an ordained minister.