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South Carolina lawmakers vote to add firing squad to execution methods

·2 min read
<p>The electric chair in Columbia, South Carolina</p> ((Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP, File))

The electric chair in Columbia, South Carolina

((Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP, File))

South Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday voted to permit firing squads as a legal execution method for prisoners on death row, amid a shortage in lethal injection drugs.

South Carolina’s Republican governor Henry McMaster has said he will sign the legislation into law.

Once passed, the state will be one of just four that uses firing squads in executions.

Under the new law, if injection drugs aren’t available, death row inmates choose either facing a firing squad or electrocution.

The state currently has 37 death row inmates, and hasn’t carried out an execution since 2011.

Republicans pushed the bill as a way to bring closure to families waiting for offenders to be punished.

“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,” representative Weston Newton told the Associated Press.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, opposed the move on moral grounds, and cited the ways the death penalty as a whole is used disproportionately against Black people.

Nearly half of South Carolina’s death row prisoners are Black, even though just 27 per cent of the state’s population is.

Some, however, supported firing squads over the electric chair while opposing the death penalty as a whole.

“They’re dead instantly,” Democratic senator Dick Harpootlian told TheWashington Post as the bill was working its way through the statehouse. “The actual pain and suffering of death, it’s actually the least painful and the least suffering of any manner of death.”

Death by electric chair is a “horrible, horrible thing to do to another human being,” where “they are burned to death,” he added.

Nationally, the death penalty has just barely fallen out of favour, with 23 states banning the punishment and another three states with governor-imposed moratoria on executions.

Earlier this year, civil rights advocates celebrated as Virginia became the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a major milestone because many of the states that still use it are located there, where the practice has deep ties to the history of racist violence and lynchings.

“Race is the most salient feature of the American death penalty,” Elisabeth Semel, a UC Berkeley law professor, told The Independent at the time. “It is, and it has always been that way.”

Still, the death penalty took on new life under the Trump administration, after it revived federal executions after a 17-year pause and killed 13 people.

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