Death by firing squad: Cruel and unusual?

A convicted killer in Utah is scheduled to die in June. He would be the first U.S. prisoner executed by firing squad since 1996

Ronnie Lee Gardner is the first inmate to ask for death by firing squad since 1996. Is this "cruel and inhumane" punishment?
(Image credit: Corbis)

A condemned murderer in Utah rekindled an old debate about the death penalty this month with seven quick words: "I would like the firing squad, please," Ronnie Lee Gardner told the judge who signed his death warrant. Gardner, slated to die in June, would be the first U.S. inmate to die by firing squad since 1996, and only the third since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Gardner told a cousin he prefers the method — currently used in no state but Utah — because he's been shot before. But critics say it's inhumane. Are firing squads "cruel and unusual"? (Watch an NBC report about Ronnie Lee Gardner's request)

Even Utah recognizes this as "barbaric": "Forty-nine states ban execution via firing squad," says Megha Desai in And that includes Utah, which only gave Ronnie Lee Gardner that option because his crime preceded the ban. This is a "barbaric" practice, and the fact that it's still happening in this day and age is a disgrace.

"A firing squad execution, and Utah worries about tourism?"

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Sorry, firing squads are okay under the Constitution: The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only prohibits punishment that is "cruel and unusual," says Michael Dodd in, and firing squads are neither. They've been used plenty through American history. Besides, Gardner chose it, so he has waived his right to complain the method is unconstitutional.

"Utah man to be executed by firing squad: is it legal?"

Utah lawmakers thought firing squads were embarrassing, not cruel: Utah lawmakers didn't move to eliminate the firing squad over "any discomfort with the method itself," says Jennifer Dobner in the Associated Press. They wanted to avoid having their state caricatured as a throwback to "Old West" justice, and deprive publicity-seeking killers of a way to go out in a "blaze of glory."

"Condemned Utah killer will face firing squad"

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