Utah Legislators Pass Bill That Makes Execution by Firing Squad Legal

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Photo: Trent Nelson/Corbis

Utah lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow firing squads to be used in executions when the drugs necessary for lethal injection are not available. 

Lethal-injection drugs have become increasingly difficult to procure; foreign governments have begun banning the export of drugs used for executions in the United States, and pharmaceutical companies have become wary of being known for facilitating capital punishment. Because of the shortage, executions across the country have been delayed. Texas, which has hundreds of people on death row, only has enough pentobarbital for two more executions scheduled on March 18. Utah has eight inmates waiting for execution, and no lethal-injection drugs. 

The governor’s office has not signaled whether he will sign the bill. Utah already allows firing-squad executions for those who had the choice before the practice was banned in 2004. In 2010, Utah executed a double murderer by firing squad — only one of three similar executions since 1977. The executed man’s daughter told The Guardian“He told me: ‘I lived by the gun, I murdered with a gun, so I will die by the gun.’” Five anonymous local police officers made up the firing squad; four had rifles with a single bullet, the last had an “ineffective round.” None of the five officers knew who had only fired off the equivalent of a blank.

The shortage — and the number of inmates who have died painfully slow deaths because of untested drug cocktails — has led other state legislatures to consider other execution possibilities. A bill that would bring back the electric chair was considered in Virginia — second only to Texas in number of executions — last year. The Alabama state legislature is debating allowing the electric chair right now. Missouri debated bringing back the firing squad last year, as did Wyoming this February.

As of October 2014, there were more than 3,000 Americans on death row across the country. The number of executions taking place is at a 20-year low.

The Utah bill’s sponsor told the Los Angeles Times“Any form of death is obviously a serious subject, so the two reasons I chose it were, obviously, No. 1, that’s what we’ve done in the past, and secondly, out of all the other options, it is the most humane.”