Firing squads may get a second life after the botched execution of an Ohio inmate. At least two states are seriously thinking about returning to the firing squad as a means of execution for those on death row.
The execution last week took 26 minutes for the condemned to die. With the average length normally 7 − 8 minutes, lawmakers in Missouri and Wyoming have expressed openness to discussing the return of execution by firing squad in the states’ death houses.
Legislators in Missouri have proposed legislation that would add firing squads as a legal means of execution. Currently Missouri allows for execution by lethal injection as well as the gas chamber, which was used from 1938 to 1965.
The bill currently in the Missouri legislative chambers would add the option of a firing squad as a means of execution. Under the bill, five law enforcement officers would be selected by the Director of State Corrections. Whether these five positions would be filled on a permanent or temporary basis is still under discussion.
Firing squads could also get a second life in Wyoming. A lawmaker there is calling for the state to move to firing squads. Senator Bruce Burns, a Republican from Sheridan, Wyoming, told television media that the Wyoming law presently allows for the use of a gas chamber if lethal injection is unavailable.
While Wyoming does not currently have a gas chamber, lawmakers feel that the expense to build one would be impractical. Burns said he chose the firing squad as compared to other forms because of relatively low cost. Burns feels that the number of executions expected would not justify the cost of building and maintaining a gas chamber.
Since 1976, the U.S. has conducted more than 1,300 executions, with only three having been by firing squad. States besides Missouri and Wyoming have sought out pharmacies that provide customized drugs. Traditional suppliers of the chemicals used in lethal injection have stopped shipping due to anti-death penalty sentiment.
The Death Penalty Information Center’s Executive Director, Richard Dieter, said the firing squad ideas being floated indicate the sense of desperation some legislators have to find a path around the issues raised by lethal injection.
While Utah is now phasing out the option of a firing squad, there are still two death row inmates that have chosen firing squad as an option.
Since capital punishment in America was reinstated in 1976, there have been three executions by firing squad, all in Utah. Gary Gilmore, John Albert Taylor and Ronnie Lee Gardner, were each given the opportunity to choose their form of death and all three chose to be shot.
Gilmore who died on January 18, 1977, was executed by five volunteer law enforcement offers from the county in which Gilmore was convicted. Equipped with .30-30-caliber rifles and 150-grain ammunition, the riflemen stood 20 feet from Gilmore and aimed at a paper target pinned on his shirt. While Utah’s tradition was that one of the four marksmen have a blank round, investigators examining Gilmore’s shirt following the execution found five holes.
Taylor, who was executed in 1996, chose the firing squad “to make a statement that Utah was sanctioning murder.” An article for The Times in Britain quoted Taylor as justifying his choice because he did not want to flop around like a fish during lethal injection.
Gardner, executed on June 18, 2010, chose the firing squad because of his Mormon heritage, although the meaning of his reasoning is not clear.
While the debate continues about the death penalty in America, more state legislators will consider the methods used now and firing squads may get a second life elsewhere.
By Jerry Nelson