Death by Firing Squad: Cool, or So Five Minutes Ago?

18 06 2010

Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner received the death penalty in 2004.  He was allowed to choose his method of death, and he picked firing squad, because the law hadn’t changed yet in Utah.  So at 12:17 am this morning, he was tied to a chair with a big white target on his chest and shot at by a number of anonymous police officers who had volunteered for the task.

People have been protesting this like crazy.  According to a WSJ article, “The American Civil Liberties Union decried Mr. Gardner’s execution as an example of what it called the U.S. ‘s ‘barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment.'”  And John Knefel wrote in an article for True/Slant, “Now, I’m against all forms of Capital Punishment because I’m not a barbaric sociopath, but even if you’re in favor of Capital Punishment, certainly death by firing squad must strike you as cruel and unusual.”

First of all, how is firing squad more cruel or unusual than lethal injection or electrocution?  People seem to be saying, “Look.  It’s one thing when you strap a man into a chair, stick a bunch of wires to his body and fry the shit out of him with electric currents while people watch through a window, but shooting him in the chest with a bunch of guns is just way over the line.”


Second of all, why do all these protesters not also have a problem with us taking our firing squads overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan and shooting random “threats to society” over there?  Just because we don’t have to see it?  Or because these people aren’t American citizens, so ‘cruel and unusual’ doesn’t apply to them?  Or because a random dirt-poor dude with particular political and religious affiliations in Afghanistan is a far more imminent threat to our personal safety than a convicted murderer who’s already on American soil?

All I’m asking for is some consistency here.  Are we fine with shooting people we perceive to be dangerous, or are we not?  If not, end the death penalty and bring home our troops.  If so, then stop being such a hyprocrite and deal with the fact that this is what a firing squad looks like.  We see it once every 20 years in America– Afghani citizens see it every day.




9 responses

18 06 2010

I would definitely elect the 5 sharpshooters at 5 yards option. Cheap, easy, and low-tech. What pisses me off is that this wasn’t done in the 80s, and the fact that he got steak AND lobster.

Oh yeah, we see it in the streets of inner-city America every single day.

18 06 2010

We see crime on the streets of inner-city America every day, but we don’t see legal, government-imposed firing squads.

18 06 2010

Did you read the story of that guy that got the firing squad? Authorities found him wandering the streets in a diaper at 2. At 6 he was sniffing gasoline and glue. By the time he was 10, he was a heroin addict. He tagged along with his stepfather being the lookout during robberies. His foster father sexually abused him. He then spent several years in a mental institution. When he got out, he murdered a bartender. Then while he was in court on that charge, he shot and killed a lawyer in the courtroom. What a sad crappy life. What a shame. If I could have chosen his death method, I’d have chosen abortion. His miserable life never would have happened and two innocent people would still be alive. Mothers having babies and then abusing and neglecting them should get the firing squad. I’ll volunteer.

18 06 2010

There a few reasons that this took place in Utah. Gardner was raised Mormon. There are aspects of that religion that state regardless of how bad or heinous your acts might have been, the only way to salvation would be to spill your blood on the earth.

In a figurative sense, the death by firing squad achieves this. Electrocution or hanging does not.

I recommend reading the book ‘Shot in the Heart’ by Mikal Gilmore.

He was the younger brother of Gary Gilmore who was the first person to be put to death by firing squad in the US in 76 after a decade long moratorium on the death penalty as a whole. He chose firing squad because of his Mormon beliefs and the ‘spilt blood redemption’ offered by his Mormon faith.

‘Executioner’s Song’ by Norman Mailer was about Gary Gilmore also but more along the lines of Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. But Mikal’s book gives you a deeper understanding of how the Mormon faith shapes thinking and it’s impacts on a family.

I’m ambivalent about the death penalty. I think it’s a necessary evil reserved for those most heinous of crimes. But compared to all of the ways of doing it, I think firing squad is the least unusual or cruel. The marksmen in the squad do not know who fires the lethal shot anyway, so the ‘guilt’ of participation is one of participatory ambiguity versus the guy who has to pull the lever or push the buttons for gas, electrocution or injection. Those don’t even have the option of existential separation of participation that a firing squad has.

At least we’ve moved away from the old days of beheading and quartering people. And that was for minor sailing offenses like buggery.

18 06 2010

To clarify rockymtnhigh’s explanation of “who fires the lethal shot:”

Years ago, in firing squads, only one gunman would have a bullet in his chamber. Each other gunman’s rifle would be loaded with a blank. That way, the prisoner is only hit by one lethal shot to the center of his body mass, and the each can sleep well at night knowing that the chances of his being the killer are slim. People often picture firing squads as equivalent to some Al Capone mobster assassination in which seven gunmen empty 14 Thompson drum clips into one unsuspecting man while his body spins around and is ripped apart.

Cool post, DR.

Back to the main point, firing squad is absolutely the most humane form of execution, especially with the recorded problems involving lethal injection and electrocution ( The link above lists 45 botched administrations of the death penalty, none of which were death by firing squad. While electrocution is infamous for burning prisoners and even failing altogether, lethal injections present the most problems because of how complex they are. Why ban firing squads? Not only are they more consistent and effective than alternative methods, they are also, from a financial standpoint, much more economical.

19 06 2010
Cliff Arroyo

My objections to the death penalty are all practical (basically the chance of the person being executed being innocent).
That certainly did not apply in this case so I have no problem with him being removed from this world.
I also find I don’t care if he suffered or not. On the other hand, I am glad there’s no chance of him ever killing anyone again.

Most humane method? I would say guillotine except for the chance of the head remaining conscious for a few seconds (anecdotal evidence suggests that’s possible). Maybe an overdose of sleeping pills and then guillotine?

19 06 2010

I’m not in favor of war. However, I think comparing capital punishment to wartime death is apples to oranges. Capital punishment is wrong because we say murder is wrong. We have a completely objective, rational institution (the courts and the code of law they enforce) meting out punishment. To have such a body prescribing death to a person for any reason is contradictory to the nature of the system. Humans and their actions are guided by many things; seldom are they guided with the same forethought, objectivity, and fairness that our judicial system is (supposedly). So to have the courts apply such a violent, primal, and ultimate punishment is contrary to what their purpose is. I guess what I’m saying is that capital punishment is something humans do to other humans; not something an institution does to humans.

While I realize that any institution is comprised of humans, it is also made up of many other things such as empirical evidence, consensus, code, etc. I’ll stop there. Curious if that made any sense to anyone.

21 06 2010

I have a problem with cruel and unusual punishment. With DNA now to back up credible witnesses to connect the killer to the crime, why should the killer be spared cruel and unusual punishment ?? Certainly the victim was not spared a cruel death and often an unusual death, so why spare the killer ???

4 04 2013
David Dean O'Keefe

What evidence do you have for American firing squads in Iraq and Afghanistan ? they can’t even threaten to shoot prisoners

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