hanging or shooting?

Both Utah and Wyoming are considering the firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection, at least partly because death penalty opponents are doing their best to shut off the drug supply, although in both states the debate seems to focus on what is the most painless and efficient method of ushering the subject out of this vale of tears.

But “humane execution” is an oxymoron, and Rodney Balko makes the point that the condemned may suffer more from lethal injection than from a well-placed bullet.  The process is designed not to benefit the victim but to spare our own sensibilities.

If we as a community, acting through the law enforcement and judicial system, decide to kill somebody, each of us should be prepared to shoulder that shared responsibility. Instead, we send the poor bastard off someplace out of sight to be quietly put to sleep, just as Dad promised us the puppy was going off to live on a farm in the country. It offers a comforting delusion.

Stoning makes sense as the ultimate expression of this shared community responsibility. Think this man or woman deserves to die? Pick up a rock and pitch in. If the firing squad was randomly chosen from the jury pool it would serve as a less messy version of this shared community responsibility.  (Anybody not personally prepared to pull the trigger should be excluded from sitting on the jury in a capital trial anyway.)

If that’s too barbaric for modern times, maybe we should restore public hangings. It’s true these occasions often attracted the wrong type of crowd, and you may want to turn away from the grim scene. But at least we are collectively bearing witness to what we’re doing. They say Judge Parker watched every hanging he ordered from his courthouse window; he believed it his duty.

I’m no expert on hangings, but I know they weren’t uncommon on the frontier. Based on the anecdotal evidence, I’m not sure that rough justice was any more unfair or misguided than today’s elaborate and prolonged proceedings. And I’m not sure the old way wasn’t more merciful in other ways. Personally, I believe I would rather be dragged out of the courtroom and strung up from the nearest cottonwood, the bang of the judge’s final gavel still echoing in my ears, rather than spending years locked in a little cage listening to lawyers argue.

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