The return of executions by firing squad: a closer look

The idea of executing prisoners by firing squad is making a comeback, and experts say it may actually be more humane than lethal injections.

Earlier this week, Idaho lawmakers passed a bill authorizing its use in capital punishment, adding the state to the sparse list of those supporting the measure, including Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

The reason for the legislation comes from Idaho’s struggle to obtain the drugs used in lethal injections, after pharmaceutical companies began barring their drugs from being used.

The bill authorizes the use of firing squad only if lethal drugs cannot be obtained.

But some, including several Supreme Court Justices, argue that the common practice of lethal injections are not as painless as many assume.

In a 2017 Supreme Court case involving an Alabama inmate who asked to be executed by firing squad, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued in favor of the inmate.

Sotomayor claimed that studies showed lethal injections could mask extreme pain by paralyzing inmates while they’re still conscious. Comparatively, a firing squad could be more humane despite the shocking visual nature.

“In addition to being near instant, death by shooting may also be comparatively painless,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

The idea is based on the premise that the bullets will supposedly strike the heart and rupture it immediately, causing instantaneous unconsciousness for the victim.

Death by firing squad could also be more reliable, according to one study led by Amherst College political science and law professor, Austin Sarat.

Sarat examined 8,776 executions in the U.S. from 1890 to 2010 and found that 7.12% of all lethal injections had been botched or “highly problematic” in their effectiveness.

Comparatively, Sarat did not find any botched executions in the 34 carried out by firing squad, although he did call for an end to all forms of capital punishment in his study.

Capital punishment is still legal on the federal level in 27 states in the U.S. and the debate for the best methods is still ongoing.

Some argue that firing squads may not be totally painless either. In a 2019 federal case, anesthesiologist Joseph Antognini said that prisoners could remain conscious for up to 10 seconds after being shot.

Those seconds could be “severely painful, especially related to shattering of bone and damage to the spinal cord,” Antognini said.

Others point to the problematic nature of the killings, claiming the violence could traumatize victims’ family members, or those who have to execute the firings as well as staff tasked to clean up afterwards.

With News Wire Services