All across the country we’re seeing legal battles taking place in legislatures and courtrooms over the idea of either ending capital punishment or severely restricting how and when it is employed. Not least among these are questions concerning the chemicals used in lethal injection and the difficulty some states have had in even obtaining them. Arizona and Texas ran into that exact problem when the feds wound up confiscating the materials, leaving several death penalty cases in limbo. Virginia, facing the same type of challenge, considered the rather extreme measure of bringing back the electric chair when the needle wasn’t an option for logistical, supply chain reasons. Wyoming and Oklahoma have suggested electrocution or the gas chamber, among other things.
Mississippi is dealing with the same problem this year and their solution is, if anything, even more “direct” for lack of a better word. They’ve proposed going back to a good old fashioned firing squad. (Daily Mail)
The Mississippi House wants to allow the state to execute prisoners using a firing squad instead of the lethal injection.
The House amended a Senate Bill on Friday, which made the execution process secret, making it possible to use a firing squad if officials decide lethal injection is too expensive or unavailable.
It passed the amendment 70-39 and the bill 80-39. The Senate will now review it again.
Representative Robert Foster, who proposed the amendment according to the Daily Journal, said afterward that the firing squad is a more humane, effective and less costly option than lethal injection.
I’ll just note up front (as I’ve done more times than I count in the past) that this is primarily an article for debate among those who agree that capital punishment is a viable tool in the criminal justice system. I understand that many of you don’t agree for a variety of reasons, but I’ve had this debate enough times to be at peace with my decision while noting that we need overwhelming proof of guilt in the most heinous cases before taking such a step.
But is the firing squad a viable option? Utah seems to think so since they’ve executed three criminals that way in the decades since the death penalty was reinstated nationally. The last came in Utah in 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner, a double murderer, was executed in that fashion. He’s likely to be the last in that state, however, since they have switch the rules up a bit.
Since the discussion seems to focus on how “humane” the execution is (with little regard for the monstrous murders some of these suspects committed) in terms of how long it takes to die, the firing squad actually ranks quite high. NBC News conducted a study a few years ago and found that a properly performed firing squad execution results in death in under two minutes… sometimes as little as 30 seconds. That matched up quite well against the up to fifteen minutes for lethal injection, or even much longer if it the procedure is botched. Electrocution is supposed to be horrifically painful and also can take considerably longer. In fact, the only method faster than a firing squad is generally held to be the guillotine, but we don’t appear to have much of a national appetite for that.
So why the horror and outcry against states choosing the firing squad? If we start from the assumption that capital punishment is currently legal and some states will be doing it, wouldn’t you want the quickest and most relatively painless method employed?