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Lethal Injection

Some States Look at Reviving Firing Squads

Image: A bill introduced in the Missouri state House proposes using firing squads for executions
A bill introduced in the Missouri state House proposes using firing squads for executions. Missouri Legislature

A shortage of a drug commonly used in executions has prompted lawmakers in at least two states to call for the return of firing squads.

Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican representing Harrisonville, introduced legislation Friday (.pdf) that would add five-person firing squads as an alternative to the state's current method of capital punishment, lethal injection.

Brattin cited the prolonged death Thursday of Dennis McGuire in Ohio as evidence that alternative methods were needed after manufacturers of pentobarbitol, the drug most commonly used in lethal injections, began withdrawing it from use in executions on ethical grounds.

It took almost 25 minutes for McGuire, who was executed for raping and murdering a 22-year-old pregnant newlywed, to die gasping and choking Thursday from a new combination of drugs that had never before been used in a U.S. execution. McGuire's family said Friday it intends to sue Ohio prison officials.

Missouri also allows execution by lethal gas, but its gas chamber hasn't been functional since 1965. With the state's next execution scheduled for Jan. 29, "we've been having all of these troubles getting the drugs to administer the lethal injection," Brattin told the statewide radio network Missourinet on Friday.

"Frankly, it's one of the cheapest [options] for the state."

"I was just looking at a second option, something we could do if we had to utilize the death penalty and we could not administer the lethal injection," Brattin said.

Besides being "quick and something we could do at a moment's notice," he said, an execution by firing squad would be more humane than McGuire's ordeal.

Firing squads have all but disappeared from the U.S. While Oklahoma law provides for them if lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional, only Utah actually continues to use them, and then only for inmates convicted before 2004 as it seeks to phase them out. But the shortage of pentobarbitol has some lawmakers reconsidering.

State Sen. Bruce Burns filed a similar bill (.pdf) Monday in Wyoming, saying the state would have to do something soon before it runs out of approved drugs for lethal injections.