State lawmaker proposes firing squad executions

A state lawmaker says firing squads offer an expedient and humane option if problems with lethal injections continue.

A state representative told KRCG 13 Monday Missouri needs another capital punishment method if difficulties with lethal injeciton persist.

Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said he thinks execution by firing squad is the most viable and humane method available if Missouri cannot continue with lethal injections.

"With a firing squad, you're shot simultaneously with four projectiles. Well, your body cannot handle that type of blunt trauma, so your body immediately dies," he said.

His bill would add the firing squad option to state law, giving the state a total of three authorized means for putting a condemned criminal to death. State law currently specifies lethal injection or lethal gas, but Brattin pointed out Missouri does not have an operational gas chamber.

Death penalty opponents called Brattin's move desperate. Rita Linhardt, the chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said she found the idea of a firing squad execution even less palatable than lethal injection.

"This, to me, is just them trying to keep the death penalty system going when, in fact, it's really broken and it's beyond repair," she said.

Unlike other execution methods, firing squads have been used very rarely in U.S. history. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, three people have been executed using this method since capital punishment resumed in 1977, all in Utah. That state eliminated firing squads in 2004 but Utah's Department of Corrections reports inmates condemned before then may choose this method. Four have reportedly asked to be shot. Nevada also once had this method on the books but only one person was ever put to death by shooting, according to the Nevada State Library. The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows Oklahoma is the only state that currently has execution by firing squad on the books, and then only if lethal injection, which is the state's primary method, and electrocution are both ruled unconstitutional.

Several Jefferson City residents said they thought firing squads are a good idea. Debra Banes said it would help clear backlogs on death row. Patrick Davidson said people who commit heinous crimes should not be allowed to live out the rest of their natural lives.

"People who cause other people's death, they deserve death themselves, not 20 years on death row," he said.

Support was not universal. Lucky Harlan said he was opposed to the death penalty because he has friends currently awaiting execution. He said this fact makes him pause and consider the issues a little more carefully whenever capital punishment is brought up. Ken Beck said he supported capital punishment in general and lethal injection in particular but he felt firing squads go too far.

"Firing squad is very inhumane for the people that are doing the shooting as well as the people who are getting shot," he said.

Brattin's bill comes amid months of debate in Missouri and across the United States over the drugs used in lethal injections. Last year, Missouri postponed two executions that would have been the state's first using the drug propofol. The state ultimately returned its supplies of the drug amid concerns European-based pharmaceutical companies would block future shipments to the U.S. Convicted killers Joseph Paul Franklin and Allen Nicklasson were ultimately put to death using pentobarbital. Officials currently face questions over revelations that the pentobarbital came from an Oklahoma pharmacy that is not licensed to do business in Missouri.

Meanwhile, other states have faced similar difficulties. Ohio is facing potential lawsuits after its execution of Dennis McGuire using an untested 2-drug combination. That execution lasted 15 to 25 minutes, during which McGuire reported gasped and snorted.