On Tuesday, the Utah Senate voted on a bill to bring back firing squads as an alternative option and method for the death penalty. The bill passed after an 18-10 vote. This comes one month after the Utah House of Representatives voted to pass the legislation. The bill now makes its way to Republican Governor Gary Herbert. Only three people in the United States have been executed by firing squad since 1976, all in Utah. The last time a person in the state was executed by firing squad was in 2010, even though they had changed their primary execution method to lethal injection in 2004.
The bill would only come into action if the state runs out of chemicals for lethal injection. Over the last few years, this has become an increasingly serious issue in some states. This is due to an export ban on lethal injection drugs put in place by the European Union back in 2011. As the supply of the drugs continues to decline, many prisons are looking for alternative ways to execute prisoners. Though, this does not mean any states are currently considering a complete ban on the death penalty. The solution that these states are looking for is another way to execute the condemned.
Utah’s plan to bring back the firing squad as an execution method comes after a few recent botched executions by lethal injection. The famous case being that of Clayton Lockett. Lockett was a prisoner in Oklahoma scheduled for death by lethal injection. However, there was a problem with the method used, which led to him writhing in pain for a full 43 minutes after the injection before dying. After the botched execution of Lockett, Utah looked for what could be argued as a more humane form of execution.
The decision to enact the bill rests solely with Utah’s governor Gary Herbert. It is currently unclear whether or not he will be signing the bill, and if he does it is likely it will not be for a few weeks. The representatives that sponsored the bill do not believe that Herbert will reconsider signing the bill into law.
The procedure for how they will choose the men and women who will be behind the rifles used on the firing squad will be on a volunteer basis, and people will be able to opt-out at any time. Their will be five gunmen on the range, and only four of the rifles will have a live round inside the chamber. The fifth rifle will be loaded with a blank.
Some see this as too barbaric and regressive to implement in Utah, let alone in any modern society. Utah’s lawmakers know the scrutiny that they will face from the rest of the country. Though, with the supply of the drug cocktail used in lethal injections dwindling, states may look towards Utah if the firing squad legislation is implemented successfully. While some states are looking back to the electric chair as an alternative means of execution, Utah decided that bringing back the firing squads would be the most humane and effective method of execution.
By James Dixson
Photo by Josh Rushing – Flickr License