Panicked lawmakers mull firing squad executions as drug shortage worsens
Politicians in at least two US states where authorities have been unable to obtain lethal injection drugs have admitted they would be open to executing prisoners via firing squad, resurrecting a method that has disappeared in much of the world.
European manufacturers that have traditionally supplied the drugs used to painlessly execute prisoners have stonewalled, boycotting sales of the drug on a moral basis. Officials in the states where capital punishment is employed have turned to pharmacies to concoct untested mixes of existing drugs in an attempt to make a cocktail that will end a convict’s life.
The method of using a sedative and painkiller combination is now coming under scrutiny, however, after it caused a convicted rapist and murderer in Ohio to gasp for air and convulse violently during his final moments. It was the first time in the a two-drug method has been used in the US and it instantly became a rallying cry for death penalty opponents who say the inmate suffered from cruel and unusual punishment.
Proposed legislation in Missouri seeks to correct this problem by carrying out the death penalty with a firing squad.
Missouri state representative Rick Brattin told Reuters Friday that a number of state Republicans support execution by firing squad because victims wait too long for justice as it is, although how executing an individual via firing squad would speed up the appeals process remains unclear.
“A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot, but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death,” Brattin said. “This is no less humane than lethal injection. If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection.”
Current Missouri law allows someone to be executed with gas, although that method has not been used since 1965.
Of all the states in the US only Utah has ever deployed a firing squad, doing so three times since 1977 with the last instance coming in 2010. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Reuters that Utah is phasing out the firing squad and that such suggestions are evidence that lawmakers are desperate for answers on how to solve the lethal injection quandary.
Wyoming State Senator Bruce Burns is pushing for his own state to begin using a firing squad if the struggle to obtain the necessary drugs continues. Execution by gas is legal in Wyoming, although it has not been used since 1965 and lawmakers have maintained it would only be used if lethal injection ever becomes impossible. Burns’ bill will go under consideration at a legislative session in February.
“I consider frankly the gas chamber to be cruel and unusual so I went with the firing squad because they also have it in Utah,” he said. “One of the reasons I chose firing squad as opposed to any other form of execution is because frankly it’s one of the cheapest for the state. “The expense of building a gas chamber I think would be prohibitive when you consider how many people would be executed by it, and even the cost of a gallows.”
Yet Dieter, the death penalty researcher, warned that the firing squad may create more problems than it would solve.
“That I think would raise concerns in the federal courts, perhaps the state courts, about whether an unusual, perhaps a cruel and unusual punishment is being inflicted,” he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “I don’t know how the ultimate ruling would come down, but I think there would be delays as that case got considered and it might even go to the Supreme Court. This would be unusual.”