Utah Lawmaker Wants to Bring Back Firing Squad



SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In the wake of a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma last month, a Utah lawmaker says he believes a firing squad is a more humane form of execution. And he plans to bring back that option for criminals sentenced to death in his state.

Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from the northern Utah city of Clearfield, plans to introduce his proposal during Utah’s next legislative session in January. Lawmakers in Wyoming and Missouri floated similar ideas this year, but both efforts stalled. Ray, however, may succeed. Utah already has a tradition of execution by firing squad, with five police officers using .30-caliber Winchester rifles to execute Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010, the last execution by rifle to be held in the state.

Ray argues the controversial method may seem more palatable now, especially as states struggle to maneuver lawsuits and drug shortages that have complicated lethal injections.

“It sounds like the Wild West, but it’s probably the most humane way to kill somebody,” Ray said.

Utah eliminated execution by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention it gave inmates. But those sentenced to death before that date still had the option of choosing it, which is how Gardner ended up standing in front of five armed Utah police officers. Gardner was sentenced to death for fatally shooting a Salt Lake City attorney in 1985 while trying to escape from a courthouse.

He was third person to die by firing squad after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. A couple other death row inmates have opted to die by gunfire instead of lethal injection in Utah, but they are all several years away from exhausting the appeals of their death sentences, Assistant Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker said. Ray’s proposal would give all inmates the option.

Lethal injection, the default method of execution in the U.S., has received heightened scrutiny after secrecy and drug shortages in recent years and the April incident in Oklahoma, when inmate Clayton Lockett’s vein collapsed and he died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes later.

Ray and lawmakers in other states have suggested firing squads might be the cheapest and most humane method.

“The prisoner dies instantly,” Ray said. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

Opponents of the proposal say firing squads are not necessarily a fool-proof answer.

It’s possible an inmate could move or shooters could miss, causing the inmate a slow and painful death, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

“The idea is that it would be very quick and accurate but just a little movement by the person could change that,” he said. “Things can go wrong with any method of execution.”

He cited a case from Utah’s territorial days in 1897, when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson’s heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to newspaper accounts of the execution.

Dieter said that if Utah brought back firing squads as a default option rather than leaving it up to inmates to choose, as was the practice before 2004, it could be challenged in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of the firing squad in 1879, but as tastes have changed in the country since then, Dieter said it’s possible a modern court could rule the practice violates an inmate’s protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Beyond the legal challenges, Dieter said it will probably bring back the kind of “voyeuristic attention” the state wanted to avoid.

For Ray, the option makes sense to avoid a situation like Oklahoma or legal fights over the blend of drugs used in lethal injections.

“There’s no easy way to put somebody to death, but you need to be efficient and effective about it,” Ray said. “This is certainly one way to do that.”


Sadly, the option of just letting everybody breathe is never even considered in our states …



You noticed that this is in Mormon Utah? The Mormons have long held a “blood atonement” idea that posits that some sins are so terrible that that the blood of Christ can’t atone for them. And they have to shed their own blood to be forgiven.

That is what happened to John D. Lee who was the scapegoat for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He was killed by a firing squad to atone for his own sins.

More recently the same thing was done to Gary Gillmore. In both cases to die that way was their own choice.



Firing squads are linked to the theology of “blood atonement” in LDS dogma.



In fact, in Utah Territory, killers could even be beheaded legally (although that was never done.)



An inmate chose the firing squad in Utah in 2010. That’s the last time it has been used.


I can’t believe anyone would think death by a firing squad is humane.

Seriously? Does anyone else agree?


I think it’s cruel and unusual punishment. Just my opinion.


The death penalty is barbaric by any means.

The US is one among only a few nations that practice capital punishment. All nations on the list are terrorist promoting states.


So you consider South Korea and Japan to be terrorist promoting states?


What exactly is a terrorist promoting state?


There is nothing about ending someone’s life that is humane. It is the epitome of “cruelty,” although sadly, in the USA, hardly unusual.

While shredding someone’s lungs and heart by rifle bullet looks ugly, poking someone’s limbs for a good vein (which may require surgery) then watching them struggle to breathe as their muscles go numb, may be prettier, but no less brutal.

Likewise stretching his neck with a rope, blasting his head with a 2000-volt spark or watching him choke on cyanide gas.

Just let everybody breathe!



Actually a bullet to the head is a painless way to die, its instant.


If I were to be executed I would definitely choose the guillotine, but I love history and the idea of dying like the martyrs, so… :shrug:


Actually, men and women have been martyred by every means imaginable (except probably electrocution), but far more by axe and sword than on the guillotine.



It’s sad that the United States still uses capital punishment when the only nations that use it are places like North Korea, Sudan, Iran and China,

Now this guy wants to kick it up a notch.



Had the brutal criminals among us just let their victims breathe, we wouldn’t even have to have this discussion.


It’s certainly interesting that countries with high murder rates like Venezuela and Mexico don’t have the death penalty.


VZ and MX are comparable in many ways, but not so much to the current USA.

But as they have lived without the death penalty since 1863 and 1910, respectively, and the current social environment leading to the increase in crime is far more recent, it cannot in either case be attributed to the lack of state executions.



To be fair and consistent, you should address post 6 and 13 as well which offer a counter view which were posted first rather than singling mine out for whatever reasoning you are using.

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