Utah became the only state that allows firing squads for
executions when Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law Monday approving
the method for use when no lethal injection drugs are
available, even though he has called it “a little bit
The Republican governor has said Utah is a capital punishment
state and needs a backup execution method in case a shortage of
the drugs persists.
“We regret 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,” Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter said. However,
enforcing death sentences is “the obligation of the executive
The governor’s office, in a statement announcing the new law,
noted that other states allow execution methods other than
lethal injection. In Washington state, inmates can request
hanging. In New Hampshire, hangings are fallback if lethal
injections can’t be given. And an Oklahoma law would allow the
state to use firing squads if lethal injections and
electrocutions are ever declared unconstitutional.
Utah’s new approval of firing squads carries no such legal
caveat and represents the latest example of frustration over
botched executions and the difficulty of obtaining lethal
injection drugs as manufacturers opposed to capital punishment
have made them off-limits to prisons.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield,
argued that a team 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.
Though Utah’s next execution is probably a few years away, Ray
said wants to settle on a backup method now so authorities are
not racing to find a solution if the drug shortage drags on.
Ray didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday.
Opponents of the measure say firing squads are barbaric, with
the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah saying the bill
makes the state “look backward and backwoods.”
Utah lawmakers stopped offering inmates the choice of firing
squad in 2004, saying the method attracted intense media
interest and took attention away from victims.
Utah is the only state in the past 40 years to carry out such a
death sentence, with three executions by firing squad since the
U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The last was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner — convicted prior
to 2004 — was put to death by five police officers with
.30-caliber Winchester rifles in an event that generated
international interest and elicited condemnation from many.
Gardner killed a bartender and later shot a lawyer to death and
wounded a bailiff during a 1985 courthouse escape attempt.
One Utah death row inmate who could be next up for execution,
Doug Carter, has chosen lethal injection. Under this new law,
Carter would get the firing squad if the state can’t get their
hands on lethal injection drugs 30 days before the execution
date. The state doesn’t currently have lethal injection drugs