It’s Time To Bring Back The Firing Squad

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It is getting harder and harder for states to kill people.

Four executions by lethal injection have been botched in the past calendar year. In July, it took two hours for an Arizona inmate to die after he was given 15 times the dose of drugs usually used. And, with the supply of those drugs running out fast, it looks like America is in store for even more of these gruesome mishaps. Cries are growing louder and louder for an end to the death penalty as more and more executions are botched.

Yep, neither the number of innocent people on death row nor the inhuman delays that keep prisoners guessing if and when they will be killed are responsible for the most recent national conversation about the death penalty. Instead, it’s a lack of efficiency in our execution tactics that has Americans up in arms.

Don’t fret, death penalty supporters! There is a simple solution to this problem. It just isn’t as pretty or as comforting as lethal injection.

A federal judge recently called for replacing lethal injection with the firing squad, and his argument is pretty sound:

Lethal injection uses medication to make an execution look peaceful. Since one of the drugs used paralyzes the inmate, all anyone sees is a person slowly falling asleep. U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski has a problem with that:

Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.

Kozinski’s argument against lethal injection is a moral one. He believes that America needs to look at the ugliness of executions and reckon with what they have wrought upon their fellow man.

I agree that the firing squad should be used, but I would like to go one step further in arguing why. The firing squad isn’t just a moral solution to our death penalty crisis. It’s also a much more practical way to end the lives of our most degenerate citizens. It is time for this nation to abandon its experiment with lethal injection and join Somalia in the practice of shooting its citizens.

Lethal injections have become a crapshoot, where people who aren’t even medical officials mix untested drugs to try their best to kill someone. There is a lot of room for error.

Firing squads, on the other hand, are almost impossible to screw up. Five marksmen shoot the sitting and sedated inmate in the heart with rifles. One of the marksmen is firing a blank so none of them know who fired a kill shot, but the odds of four trained shooters missing their target is highly unlikely. A guaranteed quick, albeit bloody, death is the primary benefit of the firing squad.

But wait, there’s more! Death by firing squad is one of the only execution tactics that preserves the organs for donation (except for the heart, obviously). There are tangible benefits!

Sure, like all good things, there are some downsides to the firing squad. For one, shooting people is surprisingly expensive. The salaries of the five shooters and the cost of the rifles, chair, hood, and sedative all add up to the hefty price of $165,000. But, can we as a society really put a price on justice?

Well, yes. The current price of justice is $1,286.86. That is how much it costs to kill someone with the newest drug cocktail. You know, the one that isn’t even working the way it is supposed to. I’m willing to pay a little more in taxes if it means fewer criminals gasping and wheezing for two hours on a prison gurney.

There’s also the slight problem that being shot in the heart by four bullets is a gruesome way to die. That is why we as a society decided on lethal injection in the first place. All we see is a bad person falling asleep. It’s a sanitary and supposedly peaceful end.

But, as Kozinski reminds us, executions are not supposed to be pretty. The state is murdering one of its own citizens. It is supposed to be gruesome. We shouldn’t hide from this reality. If we are going to allow states to continue killing the people they are supposed to protect, we should accept the barbaric nature of this policy. There are few forms of death that embrace this philosophy more than exploding a man’s heart with four small pieces of lead.

America needs to change its course if lethal injections continue to be botched. The firing squad is the most effective way of killing criminals quickly and humanely.

Or, we could just repeal the death penalty, save billions of dollars, and bring our criminal justice system up to the ethical standard of the rest of the developed world.

But that would be silly. Open fire!

Eric Essagof (@ericmessagof) is a student at The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at

Featured image courtesy of [T Woodward via Flickr]

Eric Essagof
Eric Essagof attended The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at



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