(VitalNews.org) – As states have a harder time getting the drugs necessary to execute prisoners, the idea of execution by firing squad is back on the table. Primarily relegated to history and period films, firing squads are still authorized in Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Idaho recently joined that list as its state Senate passed a bill allowing the practice.
The method of execution involves using multiple shooters who aim at the condemned and fire simultaneously, preventing one individual “executioner” from bearing the sole responsibility.
Idaho’s bill states the state will only use firing squads if prisons can’t obtain the pharmaceutical drugs necessary to kill a prisoner with lethal injection. Some drug companies have refused to sell the drugs for purposes of execution.
The issue of firing squads reignites the debate over what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is barred by the Constitution. Some see firing squads as excessively violent, but botched executions by lethal injection have shown that what was thought of as a humane way to execute a prisoner can bring enormous pain when it goes awry.
There is also widespread disagreement about the use of the electric chair, which has declined in popularity.
The Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Bucklew v. Precythe held that even if a method of execution causes some pain, that alone does not mean the process is cruel and unusual. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion that the Constitution “does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people.”
His colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor is among those who believe firing squads may be more humane than other standard execution methods. This line of thought holds that immediate unconsciousness follows if a bullet strikes the heart and ruptures it.
Sotomayor wrote in 2017 that death by shooting is “near-instant,” and may involve less pain than other methods.
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