Some U.S. states may return to firing squad for executions

Posted Jan 19, 2014 by Anne Sewell
With European manufacturers boycotting the sale of the drugs normally used to painlessly execute prisoners in the United States, some politicians are panicking. Now they are looking for alternative methods to kill.
World War I execution squad. Original caption:  Austria s Atrocities. Blindfolded and in a kneeling ...
World War I execution squad. Original caption: "Austria's Atrocities. Blindfolded and in a kneeling position, patriotic Jugo-Slavs in Serbia near the Austrian lines were arranged in a semi-circle and ruthlessly shot at a command."
In at least two states, authorities who have not been able to obtain the lethal injection drugs are especially worried. They are now stating that they would be open to executing the prisoners via the good old firing squad method, or "fusillading" as it was originally known, and which has disappeared in most of the civilized world.
While some states have turned to pharmacists to get a suitable replacement drug concoction, this has not altogether been successful. This was highlighted in the case of convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire in Ohio recently, where the drugs used caused him to die painfully, gasping for air and convulsing for several minutes.
Those against the death penalty instantly protested about this, stating that the prisoner suffered from cruel and unusual punishment.
Missouri is one state mulling over the possibility of returning to the firing-squad as an alternative. Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin told Reuters that several of the state’s Republicans support the idea. He said many prisoners wait too long to receive justice as it is and that executing them before a firing squad would speed up the process. However, naturally, what would happen with regard to the appeals process is unclear.
Brattin said, “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.”
“This is no less humane than lethal injection. If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection,” he added. It might be interesting to see him actually faced with that choice and whether he would still support the death sentence.
Reportedly, under current Missouri law, an inmate can be executed using gas, but this method has not been used since around 1965.
Wyoming is the other state pushing for the change, with state Sen. Bruce Burns trying to get things going. Burns’ bill to return to the firing squad will be considered in the legislative session in February.
Like Missouri, Wyoming is allowed to use gas as a method of execution, but they have also not done so since 1965. Lawmakers in the state have said that gas would only be used if the lethal injection becomes completely unavailable.
Speaking of the gas alternative, Burns said, “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.”
“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,” he added.
As mentioned by Burns, of all states, only Utah has ever actually used a firing squad for an execution, and authorities have done so on three occasions since 1977, with the last occurrence in 2010.
Utah doesn’t appear to be one of the states intending to continue to use the old-fashioned method, however, as Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the media that Utah is phasing out the firing-squad method.
He says that any lawmakers suggesting the use of such a method are just desperate to solve the problems caused by the lack of drugs for the lethal injection.
Dieter warns that using a firing squad is more likely to create more problems than it could solve. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it would “raise concerns in the federal courts, perhaps the state courts, about whether an unusual, perhaps a cruel and unusual punishment is being inflicted.”
“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,” he added.
Dieter did add that firing squads are only used in Utah at the inmate's request and that two death-row inmates do still have that option available to them.
What are your thoughts? With the problems being experienced with the legal injection, should the U.S. return to the tried and true method of simply putting a prisoner before a firing squad, or does this just sound too draconian for words?
For your interest, below is included a video of Gary Gilmore, being executed by firing squad back in January 17, 1977 in the state of Utah: