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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Good News, Maybe: Firing Squads Are Not Tourist Attractions

Good News, Maybe: Firing Squads Are Not Tourist Attractions

We should have seen this coming, I suppose.

We are, after all, the can-do country. Nobody is going to tell us what we can and cannot do, even as they make it impossible for us to do what we used to do before they said we couldn’t do it anymore. If this sounds a bit muddled, welcome to the desperate illogic behind our devotion to capital punishment.

It turns out the collective conscience of the civilized world does not share our affection for government-sanctioned murder. We don’t call it that, of course. We refer to it as the “death penalty,” as if calling murder something other than murder makes it all right when we do unto others precisely what we’ve insisted they shouldn’t have done to someone else.

For many years, our weapon of choice has been lethal injection, a deadly cocktail of paralytic and anesthetic drugs, combined with potassium chloride. The idea is to make death look peaceful so that no one involved in the process has to go home feeling like he or she just killed somebody.

Over time, prisons have to come to depend on third-party providers for their lethal injections. Until recently, that is, when suppliers announced they would no longer provide the primary anesthetic for executions. So now, here we are, facing a nationwide shortage of drugs needed to do the deadly deed.

Here comes Utah, where the state legislature has just received the governor’s blessing to bring back firing squads if lethal drugs aren’t available.

A modern-day firing squad is not the stuff of old movies, where the condemned man stood spur-to-spur and ramrod straight, puffing on a last cigarette dangling from his lips. Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs describes with horrifying detail just how these executions unfold in Utah.

The prisoner is strapped to a chair with a target pinned over his heart.

Let’s all take a moment and imagine that.

About 25 feet away, five shooters hide behind a wall and slide their .30-caliber rifles through slots. The gunmen are volunteers. As McCombs reported, so many gunmen volunteer that priority goes to those from the area where the crime was committed. Sort of like squatter’s rights, with ammo.

One of the guns is loaded with a blank. This apparently is meant to protect any shooter later seized by conscience over his eagerness to volunteer to kill an unarmed man strapped to a chair with a target pinned over his heart. Nothing shoos away a dark moment of the soul like the reassurance that we will never know for sure if our bullet blew up the heart of a fellow human.

Utah State Rep. Ray Paul sponsored the bill to bring back the firing squad. He assured the Associated Press last year that this isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds to those whose own hearts fibrillate at the thought of a person strapped to a chair with a target over his heart. Here, in the United States of America.

Paul’s advice: Settle down, all of you.

“The prisoner dies instantly,” he said. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

Lest he sound callous, he added this: “There’s no easy way to put somebody to death, but you need to be efficient and effective about it. This is certainly one way to do that.”

(Psst, Team Paul: You really need to work on messaging.)

There’s a glimmer of hope for those who oppose this barbaric practice.

It’s called tourism.

Consider the following sample of headlines on Wednesday, March 25.

The Salt Lake Tribune: “Does firing squad law tarnish Utah’s image?”

ABC News: “Critics worry firing squad law will tarnish Utah’s image.”

U.S. News and World Report: “Critics worry decision to bring back firing squad as execution backup will hurt Utah’s image.”

Dare I suggest a theme here?

Could it be that people who like to swoop down glistening ski slopes and explore the cavernous wonders of nature aren’t keen on states with firing squads manned by an overabundance of volunteer gunmen?

Might they might even take their billions of tourism dollars elsewhere?

David Corsun is director of the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management. He told AP — go AP, by the way — that large organizations tend to avoid states that are drawing flak for recently passed laws. I may enjoy a little too much his conclusion about Utah’s post-firing squad tourism prospects: “Unless it’s Smith and Wesson,” he said, “I don’t think they are going to be racing to that controversy.”

So, maybe—just maybe—the one thing that can stop Utah’s firing squads before they start is the almighty dollar.

As motives go, not particularly inspiring, but let’s commiserate another day.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Photo: daveynin via Flickr

  • Sand_Cat

    If anything can do it, money can.
    Some guy – I can’t remember who – said, “You can’t serve both god and mammon,” but obviously he was just some old-fashioned out-of-touch liberal.

    • Independent1

      It’s interesting isn’t it, that a whole bunch of self-proclaimed conservatives, really want Americans to accept the fact that they really believe in this old-fashioned out-of-touch liberal?? Even despite the fact that from their every word and action, they demonstrate clearly that they can’t, in all honesty, live by even one word that this out-of-touch liberal preached! And what’s even more interesting, or maybe tragic, is that, there are actually millions of Americans who fall for these conservatives every lie!!!

      • Sand_Cat

        It’s not that they “can’t.”

        Seriously, what do you think they would do to him if he showed his face and dared to speak as he is quoted in the Bible?
        “Won’t,” not “can’t,” is what we’re looking at here.
        And I never realized it before someone else pointed it out – stupid me – that you and I are the predicted persecutors who despise and harm them for “his” sake. What better insulation against facts could they have?

  • Elliot J. Stamler

    Perhaps is Connie Schultz who has the distinction in my book of the worst kind of unthinking knee-jerk liberal..AND I AM NOT A CONSERVATIVE..might not be her condescending, bleeding-heart self if one of her children or she herself were, for example, raped, kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and/or killed. There is a reason that every poll of the American people STILL shows overwhelming support for properly-applied capital punishment. I frankly wouldn’t grieve at capitally punishing bleeding-heart leftists like Schultz.

    • johninPCFL

      Sure, because killing the murderer brings the loved ones right back to life, right?
      And here you are advocating the murder of an author. Wow, a little provocation and you’ll be right there with the road-rage murderers. When you decide to go nuts, you really should see Utah.

  • Dominick Vila

    The death penalty, and the circus atmosphere that is an integral part of it, in a country, under an elusive God, or a God we would be well advised to avoid, is one of the greatest contradictions in our purported spiritual beliefs. Thou Shall Not Kill, the centerpiece of the anti-abortion movement, becomes irrelevant or not applicable, when it comes to dealing with murderers. For them, a prison sentence becomes an expensive alternative that rewards criminals, the same criminals we don’t want to impact with laws that make it harder for them to buy lethal weapons.
    The problem with this issue has little to do with the Federal or State governments, and much to do with our society, which demands and expects the death penalty “to find closure”…while attending Mass on Sunday to learn more about the teachings of a man of peace. The dichotomy between the teachings of our, purported, spiritual Messiahs, and our expectations, and actions, could not be more stark. We stand alongside the most radical Islamic regimes, and brutal dictatorships, in the use of the death penalty; while the civilized world focuses on humane solutions to punish those who harm the innocent and who are a threat to society.

    • dtgraham

      I know a big controversy in America at the moment is the lack of lethal injection drugs and the return of the firing squad. In terms of corrections, there is a controversy in Canada right now too. The Conservative government wants to bring in some ‘life equals life’ legislation, meaning a true life sentence for very rare convicts like serial killers (although with the possibility of parole). Presently no one can serve more than 25 years for any crime in Canada, including first degree murder. Of course there’s no capital punishment.

      The government is being called stupid, reactionary and callous on political websites and talk shows up here by most. The contrast is interesting and hasn’t escaped me.

      At least they don’t seem to be pushing back on proposed legislation to ban solitary confinement.

      • Dominick Vila

        Prison sentences in Europe range from 15 years in Norway to 26 years in most European countries. I support life sentences, without possibility of parole, for serial killers and those who commit heinous crimes. I oppose the barbaric death penalty.

        • dtgraham

          I fully understand. When I stop to consider who it is that I’m helping to advocate for, it’s enough to make anyone pause to reflect. I guess it’s just concern for who might appear on that heinous list in the future and how much it might be expanded.

  • tdm3624

    I wonder if the Utah legislature did a cost analysis. I have to think that death by firing squad is less expensive than ordering the lethal injection drugs. But then are the shooters offered free counseling down the road if their consciences start to bother them? Are special bullets used or just regular hollowpoints?

    • johninPCFL

      No counseling necessary. They all firmly believe that they fired the blank.