In an unreal twist of fate for those on death row in Utah, lawmakers voted on Tuesday to bring back executions by firing squad if lethal injections are unavailable, which would make it the only state in the country to permit the practice.
Utah used firing squads for decades before adopting lethal injections in 2004. The Republican-sponsored bill, which passed the state Senate by 18-10, was introduced amid national concerns about the efficacy of lethal injections.
The measure, approved last month by the Utah House of Representatives, says a firing squad should be used if “the state is unable to lawfully obtain the substance or substances necessary to conduct an execution by lethal intravenous injection 30 or more days” before the date set for the procedure.
Several U.S. states have had to search for new drugs for their lethal injection cocktails after many pharmaceutical companies, mostly in Europe, imposed sales bans about four years ago because they objected to having medications made for other purposes being used in executions.
Supporters of the legislation said three states – Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona – recently carried out lethal injections that led to inmates’ physical distress and drawn-out deaths, and that death by firing squad was more humane.
Republican state Representative Paul Ray of Clearfield, the bill’s sponsor, said someone executed by gunfire typically dies in three to five seconds. “It’s a quick bleed-out,” he said.
Utah previously used firing squads, including in the execution of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who in January 1977 became the first person to be put to death in the United States in 10 years, after insisting the sentence be carried out.
The previous year, the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld various death penalty statutes, ending a hiatus stemming from a constitutional ban against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The last person to be executed in Utah by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Gardner was convicted of murdering a lawyer inside a Salt Lake City courthouse in 1985.
The bill now goes to Utah Governor Gary Herbert. In a statement, a spokesman for the Republican governor said he had not yet decided whether to sign the measure.