The PJ Tatler

Fry 'Em, Shoot 'Em, or Hang 'Em High?

When it comes to capital punishment, argues libertarian Radley Balko, a firing squad is much preferable to lethial injection:

This term, the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of how the lethal injection is administered in Oklahoma. The court’s decision to revisit this issue comes as debate over the procedure and drugs used in lethal injections is boiling over. In the past year alone, we’ve seen horribly botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona. After anti-death penalty groups successfully shamed some European pharmaceutical companies into refusing to export lethal injection drugs to death penalty states, some corrections departments bought the drugs off the black market (triggering surreal Drug Enforcement Administration raids on prison facilities) or switched to other drug protocols that are untested for the purposes of killing a human being…

In response to all of this, at least two state legislatures (Utah and Wyoming) have recently considered bills to bring back the firing squad… frankly, if we insist on executing people, the firing squad may be the best option.

Before I explain why, I’ll first disclose that I’m opposed to the death penalty, and I have no doubt that my opposition to state-sanctioned killing influences my opinions on which method of execution we ought to use. So read the rest of this post with that in mind.

If you support the death penalty, the most obvious benefit of the firing squad is that unlike lethal injection drugs, correctional institutions are never going to run out of bullets. And if they do, more bullets won’t be very difficult to find. Ammunition companies aren’t susceptible to pressure from anti-death penalty activists, at least not to the degree a pharmaceutical company might be. This would actually remove a barrier to more efficient executions.

And please do read the rest of the post. Balko argues that the lethal-injection method is to sanitize state-sponsored killing:

Traditional lethal injection is more humane if you consider the humanity of the procedure from the perspective of everyone except the person being executed… We consider a method of execution humane if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable to hear or read about it. What the condemned actually experience during the procedure is largely irrelevant.

I don’t share his aversion to the death penalty for people who richly deserve it; far from lowering us to the killers’ level, it establishes a moral boundary that separates civilization from savagery. And if they experience half the pain of their victims, well, it serves them right. But Balko is right to criticize lethal injection on the grounds that it resembles a medical procedure (just putting them to sleep) instead of social retribution.

The firing squad may seem “violent and archaic,” but it’s also an old and effective means of execution. Plus it’s fast and cheap.

This sets up a final argument in favor of the firing squad: There is no mistaking what it is. There are no IVs, needles, cotton swabs or other accoutrements more commonly associated with healing. When we hear about an execution on the news, we won’t hear about an inmate slowly drifting off to sleep. We’ll hear about guns and bullets. Killing is an act of violence. That’s what witnesses will see, and that’s what the reports will tell us has happened. If we’re going to permit the government to kill on our behalf, we should own what we’re doing.

I couldn’t agree more.