Could Firing Squads be Making a Comeback? Some Lawmakers Say Yes.


Lethal injection drugs have come under fire lately for questionable effectiveness and being in short supply. This has prompted one Missouri state senator to suggest bringing back firing squads as an option for inmates on death row.

Rep. Rick Brattin explained his suggestion by noting that there is a legitimate problem that needs a solution that is both humane and economical. And Brattin is not alone.

Some lawmakers in Wyoming have proposed offering firing squads as an option and some prisons in Utah have already begun to use this form of execution.

How exactly does a firing squad work?

There are five people on a firing squad – sharpshooters to be exact. Sharpshooters or "marksmen" are trained in precision shooting. Four of the sharpshooters' guns are loaded. The remaining shooter's gun is loaded with blanks. Firing squads function this way to deter the sharpshooters from knowing with certainty who fired the shot that killed the target.

Because this form of execution largely fell out of favor with the public decades ago, it was replaced with lethal injection. Along with firing squads, the electric chair also went "out of style" and was removed as an execution option from all states with the exception of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

There are three states remaining in the U.S. that still offer gas chamber executions for death row inmates – Arizona, Missouri and Wyoming. Another three states offer hanging as an option – Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington.

Popular opinion, albeit not the only opinion, says that lethal injection is the only form of execution that is ethical and not cruel or unusual. However, even lethal injection has been questioned lately. Some experts believe that inmates experience a great deal of pain and suffering before the injection kills them. For example, death was not swift for death row inmate Dennis McGuire of Ohio. After McGuire was injected with the lethal chemicals, he remained alive for 26 minutes.

In the coming months, it may be even more difficult than it is currently to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections. Propofol is the drug primarily used for lethal injection in the United States. U.S. prisons import it from Europe. The problem is, the EU opposes capital punishment and has threatened to halt all propofol exports to the U.S. if used to carry out the death penalty.

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