Utah legislature moves to bring back the firing squad

After some highly publicized instances of “botched” executions using lethal injection, Utah’s House has moved a bill forward which would reinstate the former practice of executing prisoners by firing squad. (I put the word botched in air quotes because I maintain that it’s debatable how “botched” the process is if the convict winds up in the morgue anyway.) This did not take place without the predictable amount of controversy and it’s not a sure bet that it will become law anyway.

A hotly contested proposal that resurrects Utah’s use of firing squads to carry out executions narrowly passed a key vote Friday in the state’s Legislature after three missing lawmakers were summoned to break a tie vote…

Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from Clearfield who is sponsoring the measure, said after the vote Friday that he thinks it will be just as close in the Senate, and he hasn’t started trying to press his case in that chamber…

Ray argues that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths that have occurred in botched lethal injections. His bill would call for a firing squad if Utah cannot get lethal injection drugs 30 days before an execution.

Critics say the firing squad is a gruesome relic of Utah’s Wild West past and would bring international condemnation upon the state. That criticism and excessive media attention was one of the reasons many lawmakers voted in 2004 to stop allowing condemned prisoners to choose death by firing squad.

Nobody in the GOP controlled Senate is saying whether the bill will pass there. Similarly, the Republican Governor hasn’t even been willing to take a position as to whether or not it will get a signature. The point is, this is far from a done deal, but if it goes through it will revive a very old debate around the country.

Without dragging out the entire death penalty question yet again, I’ll just say that I still support the practice provided convictions and sentencing are vetted carefully. The state, in my opinion, has the right to remove the worst of the worst from the gene pool. I understand and respect the fact that some of you have deeply held objections to capital punishment on religious grounds, but we’ll have to agree to disagree.

As to the method being used, Utah probably isn’t too far off the mark. A team of trained marksmen with high powered rifles seems a pretty sure bet in terms of efficacy. I suppose that some will still choose to describe this as cruel and unusual, but if your collective sins are such that your fellow citizens have determined that you no longer merit the privilege of sucking in the communal oxygen, I’m hard pressed to worry about how comfortable you are. Activists seem to feel that the convict deserves the right to die peacefully in their sleep, which generally is something that was denied to their victims.

But if we must go the lethal injection route, I find myself once again wondering whether or not anyone has considered using heroin. By this point we must have literally tons of it laying around from various busts of drug dealers, and if we don’t it’s not as if the recipe is a mystery. From my conversations with cops who work in New York City (as only one example) it seems like heroin, in very large amounts, is an unbelievably fast and effective killer. They tell stories of finding junkies dead in their apartments with the needle still stuck in their arm because they went down before they even had time to pull it out. And heroin is also a general pain killer, isn’t it? In addition to shutting down the system – including the heart – the convict would probably have a bit of a final buzz, albeit an extremely brief and terminal one.

Of course, I’m guessing that somebody will be along shortly to say that using heroin is a violation of their civil rights or something.