Down a cold, drab hallway the condemned prisoner goes as he makes his way to the death chamber. His appeals have been exhausted, and the end is nigh. The prisoner is subsequently bound to a chair, his head shrouded by a hood. A five-shooter team simultaneously open fire. Death ensues. Sounds like something straight out of the Stone Age, right? Yet the firing squad continues to be used in the 21st century.
While most states have shied away from the firing squad, there have been a few straddlers. Oklahoma allows the firing squad in the event that lethal injection and electrocution are declared unconstitutional. In January of this year, our neighbor to the northeast, Wyoming, attempted to bring back the firing squad. Ultimately, the bill failed. Similar legislation is currently pending in Arkansas. And, with the Governor’s signature yesterday, the Beehive State has rejoined the firing squad club, an option the state originally eliminated in 2004.
During the Utah State Legislature’s 2015 General Session, Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield) sponsored HB 11 – Death Penalty Procedure Amendments, which would allow the firing squad in certain cases. Under the bill, death by firing squad will be permissible if drugs used to carry out a lethal injection cannot be obtained 30 or more days prior to the execution date.
[pullquote]We must treasure life, respond to hate and violence with love and compassion and decency, and, as a society, move forward with more sensible forms of punishment.[/pullquote]In my opinion, resurrecting the firing squad in Utah is a dreadful idea. Having the firing squad as an option is going to leave a serious negative mark on Utah’s reputation. What will people think of us? You can only imagine.
Vanity aside, there is much more to consider here. I believe this situation highlights the need to abolish the death penalty in its entirety. Imposing state-sponsored murder on murderers is antithetical to the notion of a civilized society. Such an antiquated practice has no place in this modern age.
There are also the financial repercussions to consider. Numerous studies have concluded that carrying out the death penalty costs far more than a sentence of life in prison due to the lengthy appeals process that takes place in capitol punishment cases.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Criminal Laws and Procedures in 1968, then-United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark got to what I believe is the crux of the issue. “It cheapens life. Its injustices and inhumanity raise basic questions about our institutions and purpose as a people. Why must we kill? What do we fear? What do we accomplish besides our own embitterment? Why cannot we revere life and in so doing create in the hearts of our people a love for mankind that will finally still violence?”
I agree with Mr. Clark. We must treasure life, respond to hate and violence with love and compassion and decency, and, as a society, move forward with more sensible forms of punishment.