Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a bill yesterday which allows the state to execute prisoners by firing squads if no lethal injection drugs are available 30 days before their scheduled execution date, NPR reported.
A spokesperson for Gov. Herbert said that his administration regrets that anyone “ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty, and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” however enforcing the death penalty is “the obligation of the executive branch.”
The governor’s office also pointed out that other states allow for methods of execution other than lethal injection: Washington state allows inmates to request hanging, New Hampshire uses hangings as an alternative if lethal injection isn’t available, and Oklahoma has provisions in place to use to use firing squads if both lethal injection and electrocution are ever found unconstitutional. Oklahoma is also currently considering legislation that would allow gas chamber executions.
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Paul Ray (R), who argued that the use of a firing squad made of trained marksmen is “faster and more decent than the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go awry — or even if they go as planned.”
Utah only repealed its previous firing squad law in 2004, but last executed a prisoner with one in 2010. Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was convicted before the law was repealed, was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles. Gardner murdered a bartender and later killed a lawyer and wounded a bailiff during an escape attempt in 1985.
Critics of the new law say that the method of execution is “barbaric.” Utah’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the bill makes the state “look backward and backwoods.”
Utah currently has nine inmates on death row. Doug Carter, who shot and stabbed a Provo woman in 1985, is the next prisoner scheduled for execution. Carter has chosen lethal injection, but the new law could result in the use of the firing squad if the correct drugs aren’t available, which they currently aren’t.
There is currently a nationwide shortage of the drug cocktail used for lethal injection. Hospira, the only US company approved to make the drug, announced it will no longer be manufacturing it. The European Commission has also imposed tough restrictions on the export of lethal injection drugs, saying the move was “designed to forward the European Union’s stated mission to abolish the death penalty around the world,” The Guardian reported.
According to the Council of State Governments, Texas currently has more than 300 inmates on death row but only has enough of a key lethal injection to execute two people, and Ohio only has one dose of the drug left. This shortage will likely lead to more states following Utah’s lead and adopting alternative forms of execution like electrocution and firing squad.