Utah has become the first state in the USA to reinstate the firing squad to administer the death penalty. This is sometimes called fusillading, from the French fusil, rifle. This story has several layers, from the shortage of drugs for lethal injections, to the question of which method of killing a human being is most humane, to that of whether, as European society believes, execution is simply a barbaric throwback we don’t want in the 21st century. It is this last view in Europe that has created the shortage of drugs that European countries refuse to export to America.
Fusillading as a form of execution has usually been practiced in a war setting, guns being the most easily available weapon for the job, and being the quickest and most humane method available in the circumstances. In America, apart from the Civil War, for which figures are unavailable, it is estimated that 142 men have been executed by this method since 1608. Utah’s record is most striking.
Forty-four executions occurred in the State of Utah and Utah Territory before the national moratorium in 1967; six were by hanging and 38 were by firing squad. By that time, Utah was the only remaining state of the Union to offer inmates the choice between hanging and firing squad. The last execution before the moratorium was that of James W Rogers, whose ‘last request’ is said to have been a bullet-proof vest. The first execution by fusillading after the reinstatement of the death penalty, was that of Gary Gilmour, whose infamy was portrayed in the film, The Executioner’s Song.
The next execution by fusillading was that of John Albert Taylor in 1996, after which this method of execution was banned. It was not a retroactive ban, however, and four men on death row were still left with the choice of hanging or firing squad before the latest move to reinstate this method of execution. Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a five-man firing squad on 18 June 2010. In February 1996, Gardner threatened to sue to force the state of Utah to execute him by firing squad, saying he preferred this method of execution because of his "Mormon heritage." Which brings us to the question of why Utah has this long and committed history of blood-letting, at one time even offering beheading (1851-1888) as a method of execution.
Part of the Noahic covenant in Genesis declares, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen.9:6) This verse demonstrates the high place of man as God’s image bearer and the focal point and representative of God’s kingdom on earth. To take the life of another is to show contempt for God.
Reflecting this same high view of man in God’s scheme, John 3:16 declares, “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son that whosoever believes (trusts) in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The sacrifice of Christ in behalf of believers is so thoroughgoing in its effect and so comprehensive in its scope that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt.12:29) Of course, to deny or blaspheme against the Spirit is to reject the very one who brings forgiveness, applies the healing balm of the blood shed on the Cross for sinners. It is effectually rejecting your own salvation. The sacrifice of Christ pays for “every sin and blasphemy” for the repentant sinner and we begin to see why Christians, especially as we lead up to Easter, call this the good news of Jesus.
Joseph Smith, on the other hand, reverted, as many false teachers do, to the earliest Old Testament law and covenant given to Noah and insisted that there are some sins that are beyond the reach of Christ’s healing blood and that “If these offences are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore, their only hope is to have their own blood shed and to atone, as far as possible, in their behalf.” This teaching is reported in the three volume Doctrines of Salvation by Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, who went on, “This is scriptural doctrine, and is taught in all the standard works of the church.” (Doc. of Sal. Vol,1 p.135)
And Firing Squads
The sins and offences for which, according to Mormon prophets, the blood of Christ could not sufficiently atone include murder, theft, adultery and immorality (yes, ironic isn’t it?), using the name of the Lord in vain and counterfeiting (another rich irony). Joseph Smith was in favour of beheading and Brigham Young similarly favoured slitting throats. This idea became know as the doctrine of Blood Atonement, which brings me to firing squads.
Whatever your views on capital punishment, consider for a moment that this form of it has existed and been popular into the 21st century in Utah because Joseph Smith added to the Bible and took away from it the saving blood of Jesus. When Mormons dissemble, prevaricate and deny when challenged on the issue of Blood Atonement, which they do, it seems hardly credible since the very law of Utah has reflected that teaching for generations. Now, again, the law is reinstated, ostensibly because of a shortage of appropriate lethal drugs, a search for the most humane way of killing another human being. But this blood-letting is so ingrained in Mormon history, in both precept and practice, that it is much more than a convenient solution, it is a cultural sticking point.
You can read more on the history of Capital Punishment in Utah on the Wikipedia site