What Century Is This, Anyway?

Today Utah executed a death row inmate by firing squad.  That’s right — by firing squad.  In this case, a five-member firing squad accomplished the execution, shortly after midnight Mountain Time.

Utah is one of only two states that still permit death by firing squad, and then only for a few “grandfathered” death row inmates.  It is hard to understand why the method has been eliminated for all but “grandfathered” inmates, but that is Utah’s law.  Even more curious, the firing squad apparently has been selected as the execution method of choice by other “grandfathered” Utah inmates who have that option.

Why would you choose death by firing squad, as opposed to death by lethal injection?  It may be because the decision highlights, at least in part, the anachronistic nature of the death penalty.  Death by firing squad takes us back a century or more and seems more suited to dusty Central American courtyard scenes in the 1880s than the 21st century American world of computers and the internet.

The use of firing squads is not only anachronistic, it also is deeply troubling for other reasons.  How do you recruit members of the firing squad?  If it is done by volunteers, what does it tell you about the people who would volunteer to fire bullets into a target on the chest of a bound man?  And why would we want anyone who has done that deed to be walking among the general public?

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