Death By Firing Squad May Be An Option In Mississippi Executions

by
Laurel Dammann
Mississippi goes where only Utah has gone before and considers including execution by firing squad in the death penalty. How'd they get there?

Protest at the Utah State Capitol against the execution by firing squad of Ronnie Lee Gardner. Wikimedia Commons: Guy Murray

Since 1960, there have been three executions in the United States by firing squad, all in Utah. However, Mississippi is on the brink of changing that with new legislation that would put death by firing squad on the state's table.

"If we want to have the death penalty, this bill will give us options," said Andy Gipson, chairman of House Judiciary B Committee.

The bill is in response to the lawsuits plaguing Mississippi's courts and postponing executions. Lethal injection, nitrogen gas, electrocution, and firing squads are to considered in succession if any one is ruled unconstitutional. The hope is that, with so many options, executions can continue as scheduled in spite of legal threats. There is no language in the bill specifying how Mississippi would kill people with gas or the reasons for the particular order of execution methods.

Death by firing squad is predominately associated with war and has been used throughout history to execute prisoners. Military personnel line up in front of the detainee and shoot, ideally aiming for the heart. The method was used during the Civil War, but there are no reliable numbers as to how many such executions took place.

It was then disregarded by criminal institutions for much of the 20th century, with the notable exception of Utah. Utah banned the practice in 2004, but brought it back in 2015, partly due to a lethal injection shortage. 

So why exactly is it a possibility in Mississippi? In a previous debate over the bill, Gipson said that he is "a big believer in mercy and grace. Unfortunately, the death penalty is necessary for those that commit atrocious crimes."

Basically, having a longer list of tools at the prison system's disposal ensures that inmates on death row will be killed, if not in one way, than another.

While states like California continue to have heated debates over the morality behind the very existence of the death penalty, Mississippi is laying the groundwork for a more efficient process. It's bone-chilling.

Read More: Botched Oklahoma Execution Comes As Alternatives Emerge From Shadows