Spencer Horton, Sabrina Hafner & Joey Griffin
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The South Carolina Department of Corrections announced on March 18 that it’s now able to carry out an execution by firing squad, which has started a national conversation about the appropriateness of the method.
No one has been executed in South Carolina since 2011, as the state has had trouble gaining access to the drugs needed for lethal injections, and firing squads are meant to be an alternative until the state can get access to the drugs again.
“A lot of the drugs for the cocktail come from pharmaceutical companies in Europe, which are against the death penalty,” said Winthrop political science professor Scott Huffman. “So, if they know that they are going towards that purpose then they refuse that sale.”
Death row inmates can decide which method they want for their execution, firing squad or electrocution, if the drugs to provide lethal injection are unavailable, as a result of a bill signed by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster in 2021.
Some see firings squads as a humane way of execution.
“I don’t have a problem with the firing squad,” said Patricia Hovis, chair of the criminal justice department at York Technical College. “It doesn’t mean that I always agree with the death penalty. I think it’s more humane than electrocution, lethal injection or the gas chamber.”
Hovis said there are other reasons why the firing squad may have been chosen over other methods.
“I think from a budgetary perspective it’s probably the least expensive for the state. I do think that it is difficult for the executioner,” she said. “Studies in our state show that they don’t fare well after having to execute someone. But from an inmate perspective, I don’t think the firing squad is inhumane.”
To others, the move has been seen as a step in the wrong direction.
Only three other states, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, offer it as an option, and the last time someone was executed by firing squad was in 2010.
Members of the South Carolina firing squads will be volunteers from the Department of Corrections, who will have to meet certain qualifications set by the department.
This has also drawn interest nationally, as part of the larger conversation of whether or not the death penalty should even exist.
“I don’t think there’s a knock-down argument or sort of moral position that will say the answer has to be this or has to be that,” said David Meeler, Winthrop associate professor of philosophy. “It’s going to be everybody’s input.”
Meeler said debates about the death penalty, often depend on whether or not you’re asking a legal question.
“The constitution has a provision against cruel and unusual punishment, but typically speaking, historically, executions have been carried out effectively, always in human societies and in all different types of human societies. So, there’s nothing unusual about the death penalty,” Meeler said.
“America still favors the death penalty,” said Huffman. “The problem with the death penalty is that it can never truly deliver justice, because it cannot bring the person back from the dead. So at the end, it is only vengeance and the public is okay with that.
“American public opinion says it’s okay and as long as that’s the case, (states) will continue to seek ways to kill people on death row, getting around any obstacle,” Huffman said.
“At one time, I was a proponent of the death penalty, but I’m not anymore,” said Hovis. “I think life in prison without the possibility of parole is a hellish sentence and is a greater punishment.”