Are Firing Squads Back?

A recent decision by the South Carolina legislature has led to the revival of the firing squad. This alarming development could be the start of an alarming trend toward the revival of the firing squad and the death penalty. Keep reading to learn more.

The Death Penalty

The death penalty has been a tried-and-true method of punishment since the establishment of the United States. However, over the past few decades, the frequency and methods used have tapered off and become almost obsolete on a national level. While some states retain the death penalty, most prefer to issue a lengthy prison sentence instead.

One thing is certain: regardless of the status of the death penalty in each state, the firing squad is almost unheard of in the modern-day. Over the past 30 years, the justice system has pivoted to favor lethal injection – a method of execution that involves the injection of high concentrations of lethal chemicals into the bloodstream.

At first, lethal injection was a more humane way to execute convicts. However, as more people were sentenced to death and officials were able to monitor the executions, it became clear that while lethal injection does not affect the psychology of the executioner, it can be excruciating for the criminal.

Executions became more painful and prolonged when the pharmaceutical companies supplying the U.S. with the injection chemicals, began to reduce output due to the banning of lethal injection in Europe. Suddenly, access to these chemicals became limited and law enforcement had no choice but to eliminate the method or use other chemicals to complete the task. Many executions used lethal injection drugs meant for animals and it became clear that it would take more chemicals and a longer period for the execution to be successful.

Now, states with death penalties are revisiting more old-fashioned killing methods as punishment for the worst crimes.

Firing Squads

Over time, the criminal justice system changed execution methods to accommodate the humanity of the executioner(s) and more efficiently eliminate the humanity of the accused. At first, hanging seemed the most appropriate, but not all hangings were successful the first time. Firing squads are efficient, but research showed that they had a negative impact on the members of the squad, particularly the person with the live round. Then, the electric chair seemed to be the solution but quickly became obsolete as the public became aware of the horror of electrocution. Finally, lethal injection was introduced as a fatal but more humane method of execution.

The primary reason why the firing squad was relegated to the history books, was due to the psychological effects on the executioners. In a firing squad, a handful of officers are given firearms and lined up behind the convict. Only one member of the firing squad has a live round and is responsible for killing the accused. Traditionally, only one person was necessary for the task, but the squad was popularized early on. The goal of this method is to kill the convicted person quickly and efficiently with a clean shot to the head.

As mentioned previously, public outrage and research made the justice system shy away from using firing squads, but now that lethal injection drugs are nearly impossible to acquire, states are pursuing alternative methods. Now that South Carolina has implemented infrastructure to accommodate execution by firing squad, criminal justice reform activists are worried that this could set a trend for other states.

What Does This Mean for Other States?

So far, most states are offering death row inmates the choice between the electric chair and death by firing squad. However, new developments suggest that it is possible to revive the once obsolete execution method with terrifying efficiency.

Florida is a death penalty state and gives death row inmates the choice between electrocution and lethal injection. There has not been any legislation promoting firing squads, but many advocates are concerned about the possibility due to the governor’s staunch approach to crime.

If you have been accused of a crime in Florida, contact The Law Offices of Philip T. Ridolfo, Jr.


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