South Carolina House votes to bring back firing squad in order to jump-start executions

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This March 2019, file photo, provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows the state’s electric chair in Columbia, S.C. Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP, File
  • South Carolina is one step closer to bringing back the firing squad for death row inmates facing execution.
  • The House voted Wednesday to add the method amid the state’s ongoing lack of lethal injection drugs.
  • The bill already passed the Senate earlier this year and the state’s GOP governor has said he will sign it.
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Nearly ten years to the day since South Carolina’s last execution, the state’s House of Representatives voted Wednesday to bring back the firing squad as a method of state execution when lethal injections are unavailable.

The bill would require death row inmates to choose between being shot by firing squad or electrocuted amid a lack of lethal injection drugs, according to the Associated Press. South Carolina is one of only nine states that still employ the electric chair, and will likely soon become the fourth to allow a firing squad.

Lawmakers approved the legislation in a 66-43 vote, after the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 32-11 in March. According to The AP, the House made only minor adjustments to the version they passed Wednesday, which means once the Senate signs off again, it will go straight to GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he will sign it.

The state, which was once a leader among executors in the country has been unable to put anyone to death for years because its supply of lethal-injection drugs expired, and it hasn’t been able to buy more, the AP reported. Currently, the state’s more than 30 death row inmates can choose between death by electric chair or death by lethal injection. With no drugs to perform the task, the inmates choose injection.

The bill is meant to jump-start executions after a decade without them, and though the bill still cites lethal injection as the primary execution method, it also requires prison officials to use either the electric chair or firing squad in the drugs’ continued absence.

The US reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s, and since then, only three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad, according to the AP. Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah allow a firing squad.

South Carolina’s death row population has been significantly curtailed over the last decade amid the lack of injection drugs, as prosecutors have sought life sentences over death penalty trials, and former death row inmates have died from natural causes. The state has only sent three new inmates to death row since 2011, the AP reported.

Democratic opponents of the bill offered a slew of amendments, including not applying the new rules to current death row inmates; requiring lawmakers to watch the executions; and outlawing the death penalty all together.