Death By Firing Squad? One State May Be Bringing It Back

The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad, with visible bullet holes, on June 18, 2010 in Draper, Utah. (AP photo)

The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad, with visible bullet holes, on June 18, 2010 in Draper, Utah. (AP photo)

On Friday, the Utah House advanced a bill to the state’s Senate that would bring back the firing squad as the mandated means of execution if lethal injection drugs are not available.

The firing squad is currently only an option for carrying out the death penalty in two states – Utah and Oklahoma. Utah is the only state that has used it in recent memory, and only on three convicted murderers since 1997. Most states now use lethal injection, but due to recent shortages of the drugs and botched executions, some have looked to other methods including the electric chair or hanging. While many people on the left oppose the death penalty, sometimes for even the most horrific of capital crimes, I find myself conflicted on the subject – but we’ll get into that later.

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

With only a single vote to spare, the House passed a controversial bill Friday that would reinstate the firing squad as a means of carrying out the death penalty in Utah. HB11 now goes to the Senate.

“This bill, first of all, is not a debate on whether or not to have the death penalty,” bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said in the beginning of the floor debate. “The state of Utah has adopted the death penalty, and in doing so we have to have a means of carrying it out.”

HB11 would amend Utah law to allow the firing squad as a means to carry out the death penalty if the drug cocktail necessary for lethal injection was unavailable. (Source)

While many other forms of execution have been used throughout U.S. history, lethal injection has been the preferred method over the last couple of decades since first being used in 1982. While some states have banned or suspended the death penalty, lethal injection is used in all those that still perform executions, as well as at the federal level. There are issues of morality and ethics that surround the death penalty debate including whether or not if medical personnel are involved will they be violating their vow to “do no harm.”

Physician participation in an execution includes, but is not limited to, the following actions: prescribing or administering tranquilizers and other psychotropic agents and medications that are part of the execution procedure; monitoring vital signs on site or remotely (including monitoring electrocardiograms); attending or observing an execution as a physician; and rendering of technical advice regarding execution. In the case where the method of execution is lethal injection, the following actions by the physician would also constitute physician participation in execution: selecting injection sites; starting intravenous lines as a port for a lethal injection device; prescribing, preparing, administering, or supervising injection drugs or their doses or types; inspecting, testing, or maintaining lethal injection devices; and consulting with or supervising lethal injection personnel. (Source)

When it comes to execution by firing squad, no medical personnel need to be involved other than to confirm death. The execution is directly carried out by officers of the state, which eliminates any ethical dilemmas a medical professional might be faced with when administering the lethal injection. It’s basically being shot by law enforcement, after having had the right to a trial.

My issues with the death penalty are with the fact that there have been innocent people sent to death row, and that it is disproportionately handed down as a sentence to minorities. I also think that spending the rest of one’s life at hard labor in the scorching sun at Angola to compensate the victim(s) family is a harsher (and more fair) sentence than basically being euthanized. However, if we are going to continue the practice of executing people here in the United States, the firing squad is a cheap and fairly humane way of doing it – and unlike the lethal injection drugs, we certainly have no shortage of bullets.


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