On March 25, the Mississippi House passed a bill allowing a firing squad be used as a form of execution if lethal injection is unavailable or too expensive.
Gov. Phil Bryant agreed to sign this bill if it passes the Senate. Mississippi would become the third state, after Utah and Oklahoma, to allow use of a firing squad as a means of capital punishment.
These states may be onto something.
While I don’t support the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment, I do agree that implementing the use of fire squads is more effective than the alternatives. Common public opinion holds that lethal injection may be the most humane form of death penalty; this is simply untrue. Lethal injection is both ineffective and cowardly.
Lethal injection comes in the form of a three drug cocktail. First, sodium thiopental or pentobarbital is injected, which are anesthetic agents that render the person unconscious within 30 seconds and dramatically reduce breathing. Then, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, is given to cause paralysis of the skeletal striated muscles, which includes the respiratory system, causing death by asphyxiation. Finally, potassium chloride is administered, which stops the heart and causes cardiac arrest. The entire process takes seven minutes to complete.
A 2005 study of several states’ execution methods showed that the victims were not given a proper dose of the anesthetic agents. In fact, in 43 of the 49 executed inmates, were not administered enough anesthesia for a surgery to be done. The inmates were not fully unconscious during the execution process.
The Eighth Amendment protects people from “cruel and unusual punishment.” What is more cruel and unusual than a person being undersedated and suffocating from lack of oxygen, but being unable to breathe because of the muscle relaxant? And all this for an entire seven minutes?
Moreover, a single bullet to the back of the head is more cost effective.
Each lethal injection procedure costs almost $1,300, while a bullet costs under $0.50. Combine that with the fact that a lethal injection is much less humane, the only argument against a firing squad is the mess that results from it, which is hardly a valid reason.
With the use of lethal injection, we are trick ourselves and the executioners into feeling more humane because blood isn't involved. In reality, we are torturing the condemned even more so.
If we are going to subject criminals to the death penalty, we should not use lethal injection and pretend it is something it is not. Just because lethal injection is less gruesome and seemingly cleaner, does not mean it causes less suffering and definitely does not make it the right form of execution.
We have a moral responsibility to the condemned to provide the fastest, most painless death. The millennium-old practice of using a firing squad is the most cost effective, humane method of execution. Other states should follow suit, and even go beyond, to make execution by firing squad the primary method of execution.
Michael Basin is a student at Keck School of Medicine. Follow him on Twitter: @basinator. For questions or comments, email him at email@example.com.