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Shortage of Execution Drugs Puts Focus on Firing Squads

CBSNews -- Lawmakers in at least two states say they should conduct executions by firing squad if opposition to capital punishment by pharmaceutical companies makes it hard to obtain drugs for lethal injections.

Lawmakers in at least two states say they should conduct executions by firing squad if opposition to capital punishment by pharmaceutical companies makes it hard to obtain drugs for lethal injections.

States have turned to pharmacies that customize drugs and adopted untested new mixes after supplies of traditional execution drugs were cut off by manufacturers opposed to their use for the procedure.

The debate over lethal injections was reignited on Thursday when an inmate gasped and convulsed violently during his execution in Ohio as the state used a two-drug method for the first time in the United States.

Missouri state Representative Rick Brattin said Friday the controversy over lethal injections forces families of murder victims to wait too long for justice so he introduced his bill Thursday to add "firing squad" as an execution option.

"A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot, but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death," said Brattin, a Republican. "This is no less humane than lethal injection."

Missouri, which is scheduled to execute an inmate in late January, uses lethal injection by statute and permits execution by gas, a method it has not used since 1965.

The United States has executed more than 1,300 prisoners since it resumed the death penalty in the 1970s, nearly 1,200 by lethal injection. Only Utah has used firing squads, executing three inmates that way since 1977, the last in 2010.

Brattin's bill follows a measure Republican Wyoming state Senator Bruce Burnsintroduced earlier this month to add firing squad as an execution option for the state if drugs are not available.

"If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection," Burns said.

Wyoming law also allows inmates to be gassed, but the state does not have a gas chamber and it would be expensive and impractical to build one, Burns said Monday, according to the Associated Press.

"I consider frankly the gas chamber to be cruel and unusual, so I went with firing squad because they also have it in Utah," Burns said. He's introduced the bill for consideration in the legislative session that starts Feb. 10 in Cheyenne.

"One of the reasons I chose firing squad as opposed to any other form of execution is because frankly it's one of the cheapest for the state," Burns said. "The expense of building a gas chamber I think would be prohibitive when you consider how many people would be executed by it, and even the cost of gallows."

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said Monday he believes there could be constitutional challenges if a state tried to use the firing squad as its only method of execution, reports the Associated Press.

Dieter said Utah has offered inmates the choice of being executed by firing squad but said the state is phasing out the punishment. He said mandating the use of the firing squad if lethal injection were unavailable would be a different matter.

"That I think would raise concerns in the federal courts, perhaps the state courts, about whether and unusual, perhaps a cruel and unusual punishment is being inflicted," Dieter said, according to the Associated Press. "I don't know how the ultimate ruling would come down, but I think there would be delays as that case got considered and it might even go up to the Supreme Court. This would be unusual. This is not what Utah has done."

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