Utah is talking about bringing back the firing squad:
The proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield would call for a firing squad if the state cannot obtain the lethal injection drugs 30 days before the scheduled execution.
Utah dropped firing squads out of concern about the media attention, but Ray said it’s the most humane way to execute someone because the inmate dies instantly.
“We have to have an option,” Ray told reporters Wednesday. “If we go hanging, if we go to the guillotine, or we go to the firing squad, electric chair, you’re still going to have the same circus atmosphere behind it. So is it really going to matter?”
Firing squads are technically still an option for those on death row, if they were sentenced to die before 2004. I’m not sure how many condemned are left where that qualifies. The last time it was used was, according to the article, 2010.
Setting aside the limitations on lethal injection that are precipitating this proposal, Utah has a special relationship with the firing squad due to the Mormon belief in blood atonement, which was one of the stumbling blocks to getting rid of it:
The term refers to an arcane Mormon belief that a murderer must shed his own blood–literally–to be forgiven by God. Since Mormon pioneers first arrived in 1847, most formal executions (until recent decades) have been by firing squad, which is a lot bloodier than hanging or lethal injection.
When state Rep. Sheryl Allen began proposing eliminating the firing-squad option in the late 1990s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself did not object. Yet talk of blood atonement percolated “in quiet, backroom discussions,” she recalled.
“A couple of people in prominent positions said to me, ‘We’ve got to have blood atonement.'”
I don’t have a particularly negative view of firing squads compared to other forms of capital punishment, provided that the shooters can aim. Particularly if it’s just an option, and if there is a religious rationale for the condemned. I’m against the death penalty writ large, excluding hypothetical cases, but beyond that I actually think the more options that the condemned has, the better.
This, of course, relates to the most recent front that opponents of the death penalty have been fighting, which is by denying states the chemicals needed for lethal injection. Specifically, they were able to cut states off from sodium thiopental. Gabriel Rossman argued that those trying to prevent access to these chemicals bear some of the responsibility for the recent spate of botched executions:
Over the last months there has been a great deal of outrage over botched executions in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona in which the executions did not go as planned and in at least one of the three cases the condemned suffered prolonged excruciating pain. Many stories about these executions explained that states had been experimenting with new formulas because anti-death penalty activists and governments had systematically cut off their supplies of sodium thiopental — the old and much more reliable lethal injection chemical. However this was all in terms of the historical chain of events and I saw basically nobody saying that the anti-death-penalty activists were morally at fault for preventing a well-established and relatively effective means of execution or that the Lockett, McGuire, and Wood executions demonstrate the need to restore access to sodium thiopental. Rather the ubiquitous assumption was that once sodium thiopental was cut off that the states of Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona should have said “wow, looks like you got us into a checkmate, guess we’ll just commute every sentence on death row even though our electorates favor capital punishment.”
When I linked to it, Alan Scott argued that this moral calculus is faulty:
And to say that an entity is to blame for a grisly death because they chose not to supply the killer with a more humane weapon is really, really gross.
I wouldn’t want a product I produce used in the death penalty. But it would be a part of my own moral calculations that the moral purity of refusing to participate comes at the cost of potentially making the executions less humane. Since that’s a foreseeable consequence of my actions, I don’t think I can turn around and wash my hands of it when less humane executions are performed. In other words, if I’m going to try to use my chemical as leverage to end the death penalty – and that is something that would interest me – I had better make sure it will work.
Will it? As Utah demonstrates, if you want someone dead, you can kill them dead. The calculus of those seeking to deny means of execution are hoping that there are lengths to which states won’t go. That’s probably right in some states, though Texas will keep executing by whatever means they can. If you view the means of death as actually unimportant, a saved life in a borderline state is worth a botched execution in Oklahoma.
As public opinion is less firmly in favor of the death penalty, it may be a calculus that ultimately works in all but the most execution-happy states. There is likely a group of states that doesn’t have the energy or momentum to abolish the death penalty, but neither do they have the energy or momentum to shoot people dead or even re-draft laws. Intuitively, I’m not a fan of “heightening the contradictions”, as Rossman puts it. But if it works, it works.
About the Author
please enter your email address on this page.