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Firing Squad Bill Passes Utah House

Thomas Hawk
Flickr Creative Commons

  House lawmakers narrowly passed a bill Friday to expand the state’s authority to use firing squads for executions.

State lawmakers outlawed most firing-squad executions in Utah more than a decade ago. But they made an exception for it if the courts were to find lethal injection unconstitutional. Rep. Paul Ray, R- Clearfield, now wants firing squads as a backup should lethal-injection drugs become unavailable.

“It’s never easy to talk about taking another life,” he said as he presented his bill. “But, in our judicial system, we have a means that requires that sometimes. And what we’re doing here is trying to avoid a costly legal battle in carrying out what the courts have asked us to carry out.”

Ray’s House Bill 11 amounts to a technical amendment. It’s timely, though, because botched executions in other states have put lethal injection back in the legal spotlight.

Friday’s floor debate drifted into the broader issue death penalty morality. Ray said dying by firing squad is more humane and quicker.

But Rep. Brian King, D- Salt Lake City, detailed a firing squad execution in gruesome detail, and he suggested it makes Utah look uncivilized.

“We decided back in 2004 that using a firing squad to murder individuals was barbaric, was not something we could afford to do. Why are we bringing this back?”

The final vote was 39 to 35.

Sen. David Hinkins, R- Orangeville, is the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, which takes up the bill next.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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