Bring Back the Firing Squads

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

Bring back firing squads.

Not metaphorically. Literally. Let’s ditch all the needles and the torturous electric chair and bring back the method of administering the death penalty that to this day remains the quickest, surest, and least painful way to administer death to someone who has been sentenced to die.

Like Idaho.

Last month the potato-producing state introduced a bill to bring back execution by firing squad. Governor Brad Little signed the bill as a back-up plan in cases where lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The potent cocktail of drugs has been yet another victim of Biden’s supply chain shortage, holding up scheduled executions and forcing state medical administrators to ration the mixture, which has unfortunately led to extended or botched executions.

In a scenario as somber as a criminal execution, the state owes the executed a swift death. It is wholly unacceptable to allow a given execution to be drawn out. The purpose of an execution isn’t torture, it is justice.

I know this post will elicit all kinds of objections to how I’ve framed the death penalty, and probably all manner of protests. It remains a controversial practice to this very day, and one that is not divided along ideological lines. Lots of different kinds of people have lots of different kinds of reasons for supporting or opposing the death penalty.

I am for it. I wrote my defense of it some years ago, here, after the brutal rape and murder of 10-month-old Emmaleigh Barringer. I don’t plan to rewrite it.

The death penalty is the acknowledgement that there are some very basic requirements to being considered a part of the human race. There are some very basic qualities that define humanity in a person. One of those things is a natural disgust for preying on the vulnerable, particularly children. When we impose the death penalty on a person like a Timothy McVeigh, it is society collectively saying that this person has not met the basic requirements of humanity.

A tank full of goldfish cannot tolerate the presence of salt water. It kills. Civilized society cannot tolerate the presence of those who refuse to observe the simplest, most rudimentary form of compassion – don’t rape kids, don’t kill kids.

It is us clearly defining the difference between being man and being evil. We may be fallible in our assessments sometimes, but there are many times when there is no question of evil or depravity. As with poor, sweet baby Emmaleigh.

God is the only judge of a person’s heart. It is not our place as mankind to sentence anyone to eternal damnation, nor rescue them for that matter. That’s all Jesus and we’re just the messengers. However, it is ourplace to make sure the most wanton among us do not stay among us. We have the moral authority to send a vile rapist-murderer like Taylor to meet the Maker.

The rest is up to God.

I’ll be interested to see your opinions in the comments, but I’m not writing this column to defend or refute the morality of the death penalty today. I am writing it to defend the use of the firing squad as a method of execution. The idea that we ever ridded ourselves of firing squads is symbolic of how modern Americans have made so many things so much worse in the name of making them better.

Our criminal codes prevent anyone from enduring “cruel and unusual” punishment, no matter their crime. Activists deemed the firing squads “cruel and unusual” because of the stress put on the convicted. They have to face a row of rifles, often they are hooded and thus forced to endure a blind and agonizing wait for the end of their lives. Activists also argued that firing squads were “cruel and unusual” punishment for the executioners. It is no small thing to shoot and kill another human being, even if it has so been ordered by legal authorities.

They won, and then came the electric chair, a baffling replacement that seems 100 times more cruel and torturous than a firing squad. The wait and preparation for the convicted is much longer. They must first be shaved, so their body hair doesn’t catch fire. They must endure having their heads soaked for better conductivity. The charge is not always immediately effective. It’s been known to take minutes, and sometimes (horrifically) multiple attempts before a convict is finally, mercifully, declared dead. The activists came after the chair and that’s when we saw the birth of lethal injection.

That seemed like the best compromise. A medically-induced coma followed by a heart-stopping medication. It would be like falling asleep.

Except it really didn’t work out that way all the time. Like the electric chair, sometimes the cocktail would take longer than anticipated, leaving the subject in a state of groggy awareness while the other part of the cocktail induced a heart attack. And, as seen recently, the availability of this specific drug cocktail has been greatly curbed by supply shortages. The rationed mixtures have led to more than a few botched executions over the last few years.

Everything we’ve done to make the death penalty less “cruel and unusual” has made it more so. Yes, of course, the death penalty is not meant to be a comfortable process. Like in the case of baby Emmaleigh’s murderer, it is hard to shed tears for those who have been convicted of truly heinous acts against humanity. But the death penalty is not revenge; that is not its function. It is wrong to treat those sentenced to death as though we are seeking revenge against them. Cruelty is not the endgame and it is not civilized to meet cruelty for cruelty.

The firing squad is the closest thing to “right” we can get in such a morally strenuous situation, for several reasons.

It spreads out the misery. One reason there are “squads” and not individuals is to relieve the chosen executioners of the burden of knowing which bullet or bullets dealt the death blow. It creates at least a thin layer of mental protection for those doing a gruesome job.

It’s fast. The chair and lethal injection (and the gas chamber, another horror) all have long, drawn-out processes. That certainly is torture. A firing squad is quick, from beginning to end. It requires no preparation except to lead the convicted to the final mark of their mortal life. It is the single pull of a single trigger from multiple individuals, and it has a much higher “completion” rate than the other methods.

It is expedient. There is no waiting for medications or licensed health administrators. The power doesn’t need to be on. The gas mixture doesn’t need to be tested. It eliminates the torture of anticipation and speeds up the whole process.

It is symbolic. I will never forget the images of Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife Elena, the despotic rulers of Romania who were toppled in the 1989 Romanian revolution, as they were led in front of a firing squad and shot by their own countrymen. Swift justice, but symbolic as well. A justice delivered by the people, administered by the people, swiftly and coldly.

I believe that is how all justice should be delivered, when possible. Swiftly and coldly.

Every “soft-hearted” thing we have tried to bring into the American justice system has only made the entire process worse, prolonged and much more cruel.

Bring back the firing squads.


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