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Mississippi May Soon Allow Firing Squad For Capital Punishment

March 31, 2017

There are currently 47 people on death row in Mississippi. The last time Mississippi executed an inmate was on June 20, 2012, when Gary Carl Simmons was put to death by lethal injection for murder. On Tuesday, a new bill hit Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk that would enact death by firing squad as a means of capital punishment. The bill, known as House Bill 638, would give the state of Mississippi options if other means of execution are ruled unconstitutional. Bryant says he will support this measure.

Using a firing squad, consisting of five men with guns and one gun with only blanks, would be the final option for the state under the measure, which would only allow the method if lethal injection, nitrogen gas, and electrocution are ruled unconstitutional, in that order. Last year, a similar bill by Attorney General Jim Hood moved through legislation and while the bill did pass, the firing squad language was removed beforehand.

“Firing squads have been one of the more common practices through history,” said the bill’s sponsor, Robert Foster. “It’s very instant and about as humane as you can get while performing an execution in my personal opinion.”

Last month, the Mississippi House passed a new version of the bill, but a Senate committee amended it, removing the firing squad portion.

The House couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the Senate’s version, so a conference committee detailed the plan and added the firing squad option back in, and both chambers passed the measure this week. The ACLU of Mississippi opposes the bill.

“Reinstating barbaric methods like firing squads, hangings, and electrocution anchors Mississippi to the worst part of our history,” they said.

In Mississippi, execution was performed mainly by hanging until around 1940. From then until 1952, the electric chair was used and Mississippi carried out 75 executions by electric chair. In 1954, a gas chamber was installed at Parchman Farm, the state’s only maximum security prison for men. The chamber was used from 1955 until 1989. From 2002 to 2012, 17 men, all of them murderers, were executed by lethal injection.

Mississippi would become the third state to allow execution by firing squad if Bryant signs House Bill 638, following Oklahoma and Utah, where inmates sentenced to death can choose the firing squad. Alabama introduced a similar bill last month but it hasn’t passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.