Every now and then I read something in the news that makes me scratch my head hard. I’m not talking about a gentle forehead rub or even a brief temple massage. I’m talking about the sort of nail-scraping abrading guys like me, ones with already dangerously receding hairlines, should never be doing. But this story from the Huffington Post, well, it got me itching:

Utah Governor Signs Law Reinstating Firing Squad As Backup Execution Method

For real.

For those of you who haven’t already seen this, here’s the skinny: the State of Utah, apparently flustered by the increasing unavailability of lethal-injection drugs, has decided that in case the chemicals run out they’ll simply resort to shooting convicted criminals to death. In case you’re now wondering, as I was, when the hell was the last time somebody was shot to death by the government, it was five years ago. In Utah.

Still for real here.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert had this to say about the re-instating of the firing squad: “It’s not our preference, but we need to have a fallback.”

First: A fallback? Really??

And second: if it’s really not your “preference”—and by the way, that’s a terrible, terrible word choice—then why the hell are you doing it? (I know, you’ll likely say that it’s your “duty,” an evasion that still don’t make it right.)

If you’re wondering why these lethal injection drugs are becoming unavailable, it’s because they have this nasty little habit of not working very well. If you’re wondering what that means, it’s this: rather than killing the intended immediately, as they’re advertised to do, often these drugs fail to deliver and the injected are left to asphyxiate or die of a heart attack. If you’re wondering how long that process takes, it can be anywhere from several minutes to several hours. If you’re wondering if that’s painful, use your imagination. And if you’re wondering how in the hell any of this is acceptable, welcome to the conversation.

This isn’t just about Utah, 80-plus-percent of whose residents believe in a religion founded upon the teachings of Jesus [1]Matthew 22:36-40 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy … Continue readinga religion whose most foundational moment, Easter, commemorates state-sanctioned capital punishment, but it includes the 30-some other states that still undertake killing convicts. It’s no deep secret that lethal injections have a bad history of failing [2]http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/some-examples-post-furman-botched-executions. It’s even less unknown that the criminal justice system in this country is very adept at delivering verdicts that are anything but just in cases involving capital punishment.

And yet some of us want blood, so it continues. The whole thing makes me think of owning a car with shitty breaks that you know at some point are guaranteed to fail, and rather than finding a different mode of transportation you happily run out, fill the old girl up with premium and head out on the highway.

If we really feel the need to kill people we think have committed horrible crimes, I think we need to reevaluate the procedures. I’m not going to quibble with the methods, only note that it seems like bloodier is better. So let’s get rid of these lethal injections and starting shooting convicts, or maybe even hanging them or garroting them or figuring out how to reinstall the guillotine. There are likely plenty of medieval handbooks full of pages graphically detailing creative ways to take a human being’s life.

But however we choose to kill people in the name of our country, let’s stop doing it in private. No more closed doors, no more curtains that can be pulled shut, and certainly no more injections that “humanely” take life. No, if you want blood, get it, but have it where we can all watch it. Put it on display, in the city centers, on the county courthouse steps, hell even on the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial. For those of us who can’t attend, pre-empt the Superbowl, the Oscars, the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight; interrupt our Youtube sessions and Facebook frivolities and the time we spend staring into the blanknesses of our phone—put it in High-Def on all our screens and let’s do our killings together.

We all know that justice herself is not blind; there’s no reason for us to pretend to be as well. If you’re okay with the built-in possibility of injustice in every act of judgement, especially those whose outcomes may take human lives, then you should not only be okay watching the outcomes of your deliberations, you should actively be confronted with them. Further, at some point you should be willing to pull the damned triggers yourself. After all, it’s just a fallback.


1 Matthew 22:36-40

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

2 http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/some-examples-post-furman-botched-executions