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January 6, 2017

"Facing the Firing Squad"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Andrew Jensen Kerr available via the Georgetown Law Journal website. Here is the abstract:

The recent Supreme Court decision in Glossip v. Gross affirmed the legality of midazolam for use in lethal injection.  The 5–4 majority opinion reads the Constitution to require an available form of execution.  But it does little to counter Professor Denno’s claim in “Lethal Injection Chaos Post-Baze” that pragmatic supply-side concerns should dismantle the economy for lethal injection.  Off-brand substitutes for lethal injection drugs have led to recent high-profile botches.  Both Utah and Wyoming have proposed a return to the firing squad.  Lethal injection is comparatively sanitary and bureaucratic.  But I respond that the firing squad is more coherent with death penalty administration heuristic concerns of retribution and dignity.  The visibility of the firing squad also serves an abolitionist, information-forcing function by requiring a candid look at death penalty process from the perspective of the executed.

January 6, 2017 at 10:10 AM | Permalink


In terms of the actual mechanics of execution, I think treating death as some sort of nonconsensual euthanasia is about one of the sickest things one could do to a person (barring thumbscrews and that sort of thing). It's certainly one of the cruelest things done out of "compassion."

And I also agree that a return to a firing squad is more honest—whether that will be the actual boon to abolitionists that the author thinks it will be, I don't know.

Posted by: Bryan | Jan 6, 2017 11:06:34 AM

I see significant reasons to avoid firing squads that have nothing to do with the condemned but instead focused entirely on safety for the execution team. Even if firing squads were to change to a captive bolt device (destroying the brain stem instead of the heart) there would still be some amount of blood that would need cleaning afterward.

I expect neutral gas to be the next attempt in 'clean' execution.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 6, 2017 11:26:26 AM

I'm still knitting and waiting.

Posted by: Madam DeFarge | Jan 6, 2017 12:28:55 PM

Firing squads were used in this country and the cleaning issue wasn't a major concern from what I understand. They actually have special cleaners who handle crime scenes ... which can have a lot more blood than would be present here. Anyway, I can see firing squads as an alternative though I think the blunt nature of it is a major reason it will not happen. People don't want such an "in your face" method.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 6, 2017 2:46:27 PM

Let the murderers have their blood. Some will relish it. Perhaps then many of the death-penalty advocates will take a fresh look at their fellow travelers and see what really drives these people.

Posted by: MarK M. | Jan 6, 2017 6:30:09 PM

Firing Squad. Too dramatic, noisy, messy, and unreliable. The guy moves. The shooter gets nervous. Too loud and traumatic all around. Forget that.

I like that device in No Country for Old Men. It is veterinarian approved, and they are the worst bleeding heart, PC, left wing group of professionals you ever want to meet.

That device should also preserve transplantable organs if the condemned wants to redeem his life. He would volunteer them in informed consent, after getting medically qualified, as disease free.

It is called the captive bolt pistol.


A nail gun is an alternative. Home Depot has one for $26.65. With one of those suckers, a guy could clear death row in an hour. The carpenter's union may demand premium pay, however.

I would prefer the nail gun for myself, instead of the horror movie scenario that awaits me and most people who die of natural causes. I drive a lot, and do not want to go, sliced, diced, butchered by a truck hitting my car, survining in agony as slow shuffling government incompetents argue about my extrication. I am old, and do not want illegal aliens having to care for my personal needs for several years before I catch a pneumonia and get suffocated slowly by it. I do not want cancer spread to my bones, and feeling like 100 bone fractures. Why does the lawyer client have to die the most perfect death imaginable? Only 10% of us will have a nice death, the rest of us reasonable persons will suffer a lot and for a long time.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 6, 2017 9:38:04 PM

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