Governor Signs Law Making Utah Only State To Allow Execution By Firing Squad

Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed the bill on Monday, has acknowledged that the method of execution is “a little bit gruesome,” but said it gives the state an alternative if there are not enough lethal drugs on hand.


Utah’s governor on Monday signed a bill into law that will allow the state to use a firing squad to carry out the death penalty if there is a shortage of lethal drugs.

Gov. Gary Herbert had previously said he finds firing squads “a little bit gruesome,” but that it gives the state an alternative.

The state Senate voted 18-10 on March 10 to reintroduce the firing squad, according to the Associated Press.

The bill requires Utah to use a firing squad if lethal drugs are not on hand 30 days before an execution is scheduled.

Oklahoma laws also permits the use of a firing squad but only if both lethal injection and electrocution are held to be unconstitutional, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

See also: The DEA Is Seizing Cash Without Warrants In Its Version Of Stop-and-Frisk

Republican Rep. Paul Ray, of Clearfield, votes on the Utah House floor Monday, March 2, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer / AP

The measure was sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Ray, who said the aim is to give the state another option while there are nationwide concerns about obtaining lethal drugs and the efficacy of them.

Ray told lawmakers in February that Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona, had all carried lethal injection executions which were more drawn out had resulted in inmates’ physical distress.

He argued that a firing squad is similar, if not more humane: “With a firing squad, the individual dies within three to five seconds. It’s a quick bleed-out.”

A spokesman for Herbert, Marty Carpenter, said in a statement Monday that “Those who voiced opposition to this bill are primarily arguing against capital punishment in general.”

Randy Gardner of Salt Lake City, the older brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, the last inmate to be killed by firing squad in Utah in 2010, protests outside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 27, 2015. Rick Bowmer / AP

Opponents disagree, saying firing squads are cruel and a relic from the state’s wild West days.

The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says a firing squad can miss the heart, causing a slower and more painful death.

This reportedly happened in Utah in 1879, when when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson’s heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to the AP.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Utah has carried out three executions by firing squad.

In 2004, lawmakers voted to stop allowing prisoners to choose death by firing squad.

Several inmates were sentenced before the 2004 law change and were still given the option to go before a firing squad, according to the New York Times. A firing squad was last used in 2010 for the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner.


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