As reported by our Townhall colleague Christine Rousselle, Utah Republican representative Paul Ray raised a few eyebrows this week when he proposed bringing back the firing squad as an accepted method of execution in his state. This followed the debacle in Oklahoma over the execution of a convicted monster who buried a young woman alive.
Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican serving in the Utah House of Representatives, wants to bring back the firing squad as an execution method in the state of Utah. Ray’s proposal comes in light of the recent controversies surrounding lethal injection as an execution technique.
Inmates sentenced to death row in Utah could opt for the firing squad until 2004, although Utah executed an inmate, Ronnie Lee Gardner, in this manner in 2010. Gardner was sentenced to death and chose to be executed via firing squad prior to 2004, and thus was grandfathered in. Utah eliminated the firing squad as an option due to “excessive media attention” given to the inmates.
I think that this is worth looking in to–if suffering can be avoided, it makes sense to pursue that route. The firing squad is relatively quick, and with modern rifles, almost guaranteed to be an instant death rather than a slow, drawn-out process.
I suppose my first and overarching question about this story is to ask when, precisely, did it become so controversial to execute a convicted monster by shooting them? I understand and respect that there are plenty of people who hold honest and completely valid objections to the death penalty. (In fact, Ed Morrissey and I are on opposite sides of the issue, as he discussed recently, while public opinion remains substantially in favor of it.) But much of the discussion seems to center on how kindly we can perform the act if we are, in fact to engage in the practice.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the end objective of capital punishment is to kill someone. It would seem that there are, by definition, limits to exactly how “kind, gentle and painless” we can be when achieving this goal. That’s not to say that we should intentionally torture someone to death, dragged out over a period of days or weeks in some medieval fashion. (Though some families of the victims of these monsters might give it at least passing consideration.) But the fact is that when you drag a convicted monster out of their cell and take them to meet their end, it’s not going to be a stroll in the park for ice cream.
Also to be considered is the fact that one facet of the ostensible goals of capital punishment is to act as a deterrent to others considering similarly heinous crimes. Laying someone down for a nap from which they never awake does not convey the same level of threat to such criminals as lashing them to a pole with a blindfold and a cigarette or leading them up the steps of a gallows featuring a thirteen knot noose. And as Tim Cavanaugh notes at NRO, even opponents struggled to find examples of firing squads being all that ineffective.
A death penalty opponent cited by AP noted that death by firing squad is also not fool-proof, but he had to reach all the way back to Utah’s territorial era for an example of an 1897 execution in which the prisoner took 27 minutes to die.
I maintain that we must continue to be extremely cautious and judicious in our use of the death penalty, needing to shoot for 100% accuracy in determining guilt before it is applied. But when we know we have the correct person in custody, they have been found guilty beyond any reasonable question and exhausted all of their appeals, a certain amount of brutality is not only unavoidable, but in some sense desirable in carrying it out. I don’t know if a firing squad is preferable to a hanging or, as Ed mentioned, the guillotine, but it would seem that a properly trained and organized firing squad could complete the process in short order. With that in mind, Paul Ray wasn’t really saying anything that shocking, extraordinary or outrageous.