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SC House, Senate pass bill for firing squads for executions, Gov. expected to sign

Black and white prison cell. (MaxPixel/Released)
May 06, 2021

The South Carolina House voted Wednesday to include firing squads as a method of execution in the state amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Approved by 66-42 vote, the bill would allow death row inmates to choose between firing squad or electrocution if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. According to The Associated Press, South Carolina is one of just nine states to still allow the electric chair, and could become the fourth state to allow death by firing squad.   

The Senate already approved the legislation in March, voting 32-11 in support of the measure. The House made several technical changes to the version approved by the Senate, which means the Senate will need to provide one final sign-off vote on the bill before it heads to the governor’s desk.

“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law,” GOP Governor Henry McMaster tweeted Wednesday. “I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk.”

The last execution of a death row inmate in South Carolina took place 10 years ago Thursday. The AP reported that there are multiple inmates who are set to be executed, but lawsuits fighting the new rules are likely.

“Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg, thumping the microphone in front of him like a heartbeat. “If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

Since 1977 when the United States reinstated the death penalty, three inmates have been killed by firing squad. The South Carolina bill still lists lethal injection as the primary execution method, but requires that the electric chair or firing squad be used an alternative if drugs aren’t available.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out,” said Republican Rep. Weston Newton.

House Democrats who opposed the legislation attempted to pass several amendments, including making current death row inmates exempt from the new rules, livestreaming executions online, outlawing the death penalty, and requiring lawmakers observe executions. None were approved.   

The bill was approved almost by party lines, with one Democrat voting in favor of the measure and seven Republicans voting against it.