The news: As America faces a national shortage of the drugs used for lethal injection executions, certain states are turning to more "primitive" measures to carry out death sentences. In Wyoming, the state legislature committee asked staff to draft a bill allowing the use of firing squad to execute condemned convicts. Meanwhile in Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill into law Thursday allowing prison to use the electric chair if they're unable to obtain the necessary drugs.
Firing squads in Wyoming: According to the Associated Press, Wyoming has no lethal injection drugs available, though current state law requires injection as the primary means for death sentence execution. The second option is death by gas chamber, but the state doesn't currently have one to use. With one person on death row — a 69-year-old sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of a teenager — Bob Lampert of the Wyoming Department of Corrections Director testified before the Joint Interim Judiciary Committee that the state should consider use of a firing squad. The committee will consider the proposal at their next meeting in July.
Electric chair in Tennessee: Stuck with the same problem of a lack of lethal injection drugs, Tennessee lawmakers overwhelmingly passed electric chair legislation in April, with the Senate voting 23-3 and the House 68-13 in favor of the bill. This makes them the first state to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that opposes executions and tracks the issue.
"There are states that allow inmates to choose, but it is a very different matter for a state to impose a method like electrocution," Dieter told FOX News. "No other state has gone so far."
Tennessee currently has 74 inmates on death row.
Why is this happening? Most U.S. states with a death-penalty-by-lethal-injection use a certain three-drug cocktail that's thought to be the most humane and effective method (though it's arguably not nearly as humane as some may think). But when the European manufacturers that produce these drugs found out how they were being used, they weren't happy. The European Union, which opposes the death penalty, had threatened to limit exports of one drug if it was to be used in executions.
This has raised concerns among the medical community which uses one of the drugs, propofol, as a common anesthetic in hospitals for average patients. However, the EU has stood firm and for the roughly 30 states that still use lethal injection, this has posed a serious problem with no easy solution.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
In this map, brown represents states that only use lethal injection; orange represents state that use lethal injection primarily but have secondary methods; green represents states that once used lethal injection, but don't anymore; and blue represents states that have never used this method.
What's ironic is that the European pharmaceutical companies producing the deadly drugs cited their use in lethal injection as the reason they didn't want to sell them to the U.S. However, by attempting to prevent execution by lethal injection, those companies have effectively forced U.S. prisons to return to arguably less humane tactics, like electric chairs and firing squads. Of course, the death penalty could also be eliminated completely, but with 60% of Americans in support of the death penalty for convicted murderers, that may be a difficult legislative fight.
"I've been shot," said Rep. Stephen Watt (R), a former state Highway Patrol trooper who was injured in the line of duty before entering politics, regarding Wyoming's potential new execution method. "And I don't care how quickly death comes from firing squad. It still hurts, and it's still terrifying. And I think it's cruel and unusual."