State senators in Salt Lake City passed a bill on Tuesday that could see Utah become the only state to allow firing squads to carry out a death penalty. The Senate’s decision comes amid nationwide reports about a shortage of lethal injection drugs.
Utah, which already is the last US state to have carried out an execution by firing squad in the past 40 years, claims the lawmakers’ decision will serve as the backup plan in case state officials won’t be able to replenish their lethal drugs supply.
Accordingto an official post on a social media platform, the senators approved 18 votes to 10 to restore the firing squads. The bill’s author, Republican Paul Ray of Clearfield, has reportedly described the Senate’s approval of the wild West-style restoration as a quick and humane alternative to lethal injection. The bill specifies that the use of a firing platoon will be required if the state won’t be able to acquire lethal injection drugs 30 days prior to the execution.
The final call on the matter belongs to Utah Governor Gary Herbert. As far as it is known for now, the Republican governor has declined to take a definitive stance on the issue. Although one of his spokespeople, Marty Carpenter, recognized that the new bill offers a legitimate alternative in case drugs aren’t supplied, Herbert is believed to provide a verdict in about a week. So far, he declined to say whether he’d sign the legislation piece or not.
Utah’s new law comes on the background of a larger national controversy over the constitutionality of lethal injection use. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the execution method was constitutional, but is likely to reconsider the issue next month. The most widespread form of execution in the United States, lethal injection, has been a recurrent subject of debate in the past years.
In one cast last year, in Arizona, it took almost two hours before a death-row inmate died as a result of deadly drug administration, while in Oklahoma another execution completely failed. Additional arguments over the pain the lethal injection might provoke to people have led to a search of alternative capital punishment methods. In connection to this topic, Utah’s Paul Ray stated that the bill he proposed is also a more humane form of execution.
Like Utah, there are other states looking for alternatives to poison administration. Arkansas passed similar legislation this year, while in Wyoming, there was a failed attempt to do so. Oklahoma opted for the use of nitrogen gas, but a decision on the matter has not been passed yet.
The Washington D.C. Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates for the abolition of death penalty, insists that a firing squad execution could cause a slower, more painful death, as there is no proof it would be more efficient than a lethal injection. According to 1879 newspaper accounts, it took almost half an hour for an inmate to die after a firing squad missed his heart. Utah has carried out three death penalty executions by firing squad since 1976, the most recent one being Ronnie Lee Gardner’s in 2010.
While some – such as Ralph Dellapiana, Director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty – claim the new method to be “a relic of a more barbaric past,” the fact remains that many American states might run of any lethal injection drugs in the near future. Because of their opposition to the death penalty, European producers are still refusing to sell chemicals to any of the prisons in the United States.