GOP Run Utah House Votes To Bring Back Executions By Firing Squad


A controversial bill to bring back executions by firing squad, passed the Republican-dominated Utah House on Friday, by a 39-34 vote. Utah requires a minimum of 38 votes to pass legislation through the House, so the measure had just one vote to spare. The proposal would allow the state to execute inmates by firing squad if the drug cocktail needed to perform a lethal injection were unavailable at the time of a scheduled execution.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Ray (R-Clearfield), tried to steer the debate away from discussion of whether the death penalty itself should be called into question. Ray argued that because the state has the death penalty, the legislature needs to be responsible for choosing how the death penalty is carried out. He maintained that death by firing squad was more humane than other alternatives like electrocution, gassing, and hanging.

Many House Democrats strongly argued against the measure. African-American lawmaker Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), voiced her objection, questioning not only the method of killing, but also the rationale for the death penalty itself. She stated:

The death penalty disproportionately affects my community. The death penalty also is not fairly given across socioeconomic status, racial or gender lines. …I refuse to vote yes on a bill that gives a tool to carry out the death penalty.

House Minority Leader Brian King (D-Salt Lake City), was equally critical. Calling death by firing squad, “cold-blooded execution”, he argued:

This is not just a conversation about different ways of the state putting people to death. It’s a question about moral and fiscal responsibility and whether the state of Utah chooses, or not, to be a moral and fiscal leader on such a controversial topic.

Several Republican lawmakers had misgivings about reinstating firing squads as well. Rep. Stephen Handy (R-Layton) expressed concern that bringing back deaths by firing squad would harm the state’s image with tourists. He opined:

If we do this, if you think that we have problems with air quality and other things with the image of the state of Utah, to bring back the firing squad would be going down that path.

Utah ended the practice of allowing inmates to be slated for death by firing squad in 2004. The last execution by firing squad in Utah took place six years after that decision. Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed on June 18, 2010, by a team of five marksmen armed with .30 caliber Winchester rifles. Prior to Gardner’s execution, the last Utah execution carried out by a firing squad was in 1996.

Executions by firing squads seem to be growing in popularity with Republican lawmakers in the West. On Thursday, Wyoming’s House approved death by firing squad. Wyoming, which borders Utah, is similarly dominated by Republicans. However, unlike Utah, Wyoming currently has no prisoners on death row. Both states will need the measures to pass through the State Senate and be signed by their respective Governors in order to become law. However, because Republicans control each legislative chamber and the State House in both Utah and Wyoming, the laws stand a reasonable chance of passing.

To most of the developed world, the Death Penalty seems inhumane and antiquated. The United States, however, has never abandoned the practice, although it is outlawed in several states. However, in the American West, lawmakers seem eager not to move forward to a nation interested in restorative justice. Instead, they seem much more inclined to return to 19th-century style methods of execution. The Utah House has taken a step backward. The only question now is whether the Utah Senate and Governor will follow suit.

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30 Replies to “GOP Run Utah House Votes To Bring Back Executions By Firing Squad”

  1. They ought to be responsible for lapping up the remains and cleaning the ground with their tongues afterwards.

  2. It probably *is* more humane…when carried out in good faith. But I can see those condemned who have earned the special malice of someone in the (official or unofficial) power structure getting a volley of limb shots and low gut shots and being left to bleed out while tied to the stake.

  3. Oklahoma is proposing a new “nitrogen hypoxia” gas chamber and/or a firing squad for backup methods since their lethal injection using an untested sedative has been placed on hold by SCOTUS pending further review.

    It seems state sanctioned murder is a priority over healthcare, schools, infrastructure maintenance and other necessary state problems.

    I find it more than ironic (or is that moronic) that the proposed “nitrogen hypoxia” death chamber bill was initiated by… wait for it… Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City)

  4. Shouldn’t the conversation be about abolishing capital punishment to begin with, rather than coming up with other ways to carry it out?

    It’s barbaric, regardless of how it is done.

  5. “Instead, they seem much more inclined to return to 19th-century style methods of execution. ”

    Wait until they get wind of the 18th century and the guillotine.

  6. On Sept. 11, 1857, in a meadow in southwestern Utah, a militia of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, attacked a wagon train of Arkansas families bound for California. After a five-day siege, the militia persuaded the families to surrender under a flag of truce and a pledge of safe passage. Then, in the worst butchery of white pioneers by other white pioneers in the entire colonization of America, approximately 140 men, women and children were slaughtered. Only 17 children under the age of 8 — the age of innocence in the Mormon faith — were spared.

  7. Republicans just love death whether it’s by homelessness, starvation, police, lack of health care, wars, or execution.

  8. Thanks dj. I never knew about these crimes against humanity. I bet most if not all RWNJ voters don’t know either. If they did, they wouldn’t care.

  9. The altitude/decompression chamber is the most humane way to execute. I’ve been in an altitude chamber for crewmember chamber and have watched people pass out without feeling anything. Once unconscious continue until death. This isn’t meant to be gruesome but where applicable any donated organs can be safely harvested. That said, I have very mixed emotions on the death penalty. Timothy McVeigh certainly deserved the death penalty as well as those men in Texas that drug a man behind a pickup until he died.

  10. So the way I see it a murder’s life is more important than an unborn baby’s life? Who should pay the bill the house the convicted murders. It cost $20,000 to $40,000 average to house an inmate in the usa. A .22 bullet cost about a dime. If it was up to me I would not can about how humane it was done but how it came to dollar and cents. When absolutely no doubt lights out.

  11. Good. It’s actually more humane than lethal injection, which when it gets screwed up is horrible. Better to shoot or hang someone, where you can usually kill them in an instant. The neo-mechanical methods like the chair and the needle are not humane like they are made out to be. The guillotine was also designed to give a quick death.

  12. Why stop at firing squads? Why not be true innovators & bring on the garrote, the axe, & the guillotine? Allow the condemned to choose–a final measure of freedom, as it were. Redemption? Rehabilitation? Please! We are a Christian nation, remember. (Why not a few crucifixions along the way? Auto-de-fe, anyone?)

    Joe Hill Lives!


  13. If they could, they would dress the prisoner in white and turn him/her loose to run. Sell tickets for the elite to ride in helicopters and hunt them down. Cheney has proven even hunting helpless birds with their wings clipped from a jeep isn’t even 100% safe for the hunters. So it would have to be like the for the “legal” killers.
    As far as the money to house a prisoner…take the profit angle out of the equation and that price would drop like a stone. Cheney taught us about the profitability of owning prisons too. If you own the police, judges and prisons…how could you lose?

  14. Are you aware that it actually costs more to keep somebody on death row, factoring in all the appeals and the length of time they take?

  15. Contrary to popular belief, a prisoner condemned to execution actually costs the state more money than life imprisonment. At least the way the system currently carries out the death penalty.

  16. The death penalty has flaws, there are many people on death row who should not be there for one reason or another.
    But those that are there, proven for legitimate crimes that call for the death penalty, line them up and fire. More than likely it is a more dignified death than many of their victims received.

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