AIKEN, SC (WJBF) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced Monday he approved a bill requiring death row inmates to choose to between firing squad or electric chair if lethal injection drugs are not available at the time of their execution. If an inmate does not choose a method within 14 days, “the state’s Department of Corrections will use electrocution to carry out the execution,” according to the bill.
South Carolina is now the fourth state to allow firing squads as an execution method, joining Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The state has not had an execution since 2011 due to a lack of lethal injection drugs.
“It’s kind of like taking a little step back in time,” John Blume, the founder of Justice360, describes.
The state has not outlined how executions will take place if an inmate elects to be executed by firing squad. Dr. Hayden Smith, a criminology and criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina, references the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore to illustrate how these executions could take place:
“Gary Gilmore had people standing about 20 to 30 feet away,” he explains. “Six officers were selected. One was given a blank so no individual shooter knew they were the one with the live ammunition. These are the type of specifics, in terms of how this will take place, that will have to be detailed before anything happens.”
Several death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals are now suing South Carolina. John Blume, the founder of Justice 360, a nonprofit organization that represents death row inmates in the state, argues the firing squad is inhumane.
“It gives so much power to the director of the Department of Corrections to say whether the drugs are available,” he says.
“In the last two years, seven other states and the federal government carried out executions by lethal injection, which the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly said is the most humane method of execution,” he adds. “It’s not clear to me why all these other states can get drugs.”
Concerns have also been raised about how firing squad executions will affect the correctional officers who will have to pull the trigger.
“All methods of execution have some sort of human involvement,” Blume explains. “This is basically taking six people and saying, ‘Shoot that person, and shoot them to death.'”
“We know that staff with high turnover face a lot of mental health challenges and stresses at work,” Smith adds. “You have to wonder about a job where we pay very little and expect a lot, to have these correctional officers and others who are in the correctional system signed up for this type of work.”