Idaho has passed a bill that authorizes the use of firing squads for executing condemned inmates if lethal-injection drugs are not available. The bill was passed with a veto-proof majority, and Governor Brad Little has voiced his support for the death penalty but has not yet commented on the legislation.
Currently, only four US states have laws that allow firing squads if other execution methods are unavailable: Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. The South Carolina law is currently on hold until a lawsuit challenging the method is resolved.
The Idaho Department of Correction estimates that it would cost around $750,000 to build or retrofit a death chamber for firing squad executions. However, Director Jeff Tewalt has expressed reluctance to ask his staff to participate in a firing squad execution, citing the psychological damage it could cause to those involved. Similarly, former co-worker Kevin Kempf, who played a key role in obtaining lethal-injection drugs for a 2012 execution, said the process is always challenging for all involved and that firing squad executions could amplify those challenges.
Some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the use of firing squads, citing the psychological trauma it could cause to the people who carry them out, witness them, or clean up afterward. Senator Dan Foreman warned that the use of firing squads is beneath the dignity of the state of Idaho. However, Senator Doug Ricks, a co-sponsor of the bill, argued that it is a rule of law issue and that penalties should be exacted. He also believes that death by firing squad is humane.
The bill originated with Republican Representative Bruce Skaug, prompted in part by the state’s inability to execute Gerald Pizzuto Jr. late last year. Pizzuto, who now has terminal cancer and other debilitating illnesses, has spent more than three decades on death row for his role in the 1985 slayings of two gold prospectors.