Back to firing squads for executions?

Earlier this month the state of Ohio ran into some problems executing Dennis McGuire, who had been convicted of raping and murdering Joy Stewart in 1989. Having run out of pentobarbital – the execution drug of choice – due to a boycott by the manufacturer, they “experimented” with a new drug combination which apparently took too long to kill him in the view of some observers. Capital punishment is controversial enough these days, and if this is going keep up an alternate solution will be required. With that in mind, lawmakers from Missouri and Wyoming have suggested going back to a tried and true method of dispatching the monsters in our midst.

Missouri state Representative Rick Brattin, said Friday the controversy over lethal injections forces families of murder victims to wait too long for justice so he introduced his bill Thursday to add “firing squad” as an execution option.

“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,” said Brattin, a Republican. “This is no less humane than lethal injection.”

Brattin’s bill follows a measure Republican Wyoming state Senator Bruce Burns introduced last week to add firing squad as an execution option for the state if drugs are not available.

“If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection,” Burns said.

Wyoming law also allows inmates to be gassed, but the state does not have a gas chamber, Burns said.

This story reminds me very much of the first execution I can remember and the controversy surrounding it which erupted into a debate in my own home. That was when Gary Gilmore was scheduled to die in Utah and he apparently didn’t have any problem with a firing squad, judging by his final words. (“Let’s do it!“) I was just leaving for boot camp at the time, and my parents were regularly debating Utah’s plan to allow Gilmore the death he chose. My Dad’s take on it, delivered in his usual, deadpan style was to say, “It worked well enough on the Germans.” (Knowing the stories of how long my Dad spent in Europe during WW2, that probably wasn’t just a joke, either.) My Mom was born and raised Catholic and didn’t believe in the hand of man taking the lives of people, be it capital punishment for criminals or abortion of babies. But even if it had to be done, she seemed particularly horrified by the idea of using a firing squad to do it.

I know many of you oppose executions in principle, and well meaning people are certainly able to make a strong case for their opinions on this issue. Personally, I feel that the death penalty is justified for the worst monsters, though we need to set a very high bar for being sure we’ve got the right person identified as the guilty party. (There isn’t exactly an option to repeal if you mess that one up.) But how to do it?

This goes back to what I’ve always seen as one of the rather nonsensical aspects of the debate. It went downhill somewhat when we introduced the idea of “compassionate execution” into the conversation. It doesn’t seem to me that a firing squad is particularly slower, more painful or measurably more “cruel” than any other method, providing the shooters are well trained and using the right equipment for the job. And even if you do believe that a firing squad isn’t the most “humane” way to intentionally kill a convicted monster, how did we become so wrapped up in the “cruel and unusual” aspect of this debate anyway? It’s not like being killed is going to be a particularly pleasant experience no matter how it’s done, and you probably should have thought of that before you decided to rape and kill all those women.

It seems to me that a well executed (pardon the pun) date with a firing squad is just as effective as any other method, and probably a lot quicker and cleaner than either an electric chair or a gas chamber. And when legislators claim that it’s barbaric or exceedingly cruel, you should point them to some of the executions in Florida’s infamous chair, Old Sparky. A line of well trained men with high power rifles is probably more of a courtesy than most killers deserve by comparison.