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Execution by Firing Squad

"Ready, aim..."


Typically associated with the military, the firing squad is one of the least expensive forms of execution--and, if performed correctly, one of the most humane.
Firing Squad

In this photo from June 4th, 1913, a young man named Antonio Echazarreta is executed by Mexican revolutionaries for his role in defending a major outpost.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
History: Executions by firing squad date as far back as firearms themselves, but only two people have been executed by firing squad in the United States in recent years (in 1977 and 1996 respectively). It remains an option for death row prisoners in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah.

Overtones: Death by firing squad is often regarded as a soldier's death rather than a criminal's death, and therefore more noble. It is also the only modern form of execution that preserves most of the prisoner's organs, allowing for organ donation.

How It Works: Firing squad executions are so incredibly rare in the United States that it is difficult to speak of a standard operating procedure, but historically the victim is strapped to a chair, five sharpshooters aim at the victim's heart, and all five pull the trigger. One of the sharpshooters is secretly armed with a blank round, which means that each shooter can rest comfortably in the knowledge that there is a 20% chance that she never shot the prisoner.

Complications: Although both modern firing squad executions went smoothly, it was not unheard of in the past for all five rounds to penetrate the prisoner without killing him--requiring a sixth shooter to fire a round at close range to put the prisoner out of his misery.
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