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Florida firing squads? What has death penalty supporters all riled up?

Heated rhetoric over the death penalty just got hotter with a proposal, in Florida, that firing squads replace lethal injections. Some see this as a sign that death penalty supporters are insecure.

By Staff writer / October 15, 2011



Chicago

A majority of Americans seem to agree: They want the death penalty. And in a majority of states, the death penalty is legal.

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So why are supporters of the death penalty engaging in so much heated rhetoric when, by all appearances, they seem to have both public opinion and the law on their side?

A case in point: Republican presidential contender Rick Perry received booming applause from a debate audience last month after he said he “never struggled” with any of the 234 executions he presided over during his watch as Texas governor.

And now in Florida, a state that already has capital punishment on the books and carried out an execution as recently as late September, a Republican lawmaker is proposing a bill to do away with lethal injection and only allow execution by electrocution or firing squad.

So what is happening here? Some analysts suggest that those who think capital punishment is the ultimate crime deterrent are becoming increasingly insecure in the face of a resolute opposition to the death penalty, and that is moving them to find louder and more visible ways of making their position known.

In Florida, state Rep. Brad Drake (R) said his legislation is in response to the execution of Manuel Valle on Sept. 29, which was delayed by legal battles over the mixture of lethal drugs used in the procedure.

In a statement, Representative Drake said he is “tired of being humane to inhumane people,” and believes harsher punishment is justified to achieve justice for the most heinous crimes in his state.

“Let’s end the debate. We still have Old Sparky,” he said. “And if that doesn’t suit the criminal, then we will provide them with a .45 caliber lead cocktail instead.”

A firing squad, which most Americans associate with the nation’s frontier past, is the antithesis of lethal injection, which is considered a more clinical procedure and therefore less fraught with emotional baggage.

Just three people have died by a firing squad since 1976, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

In cases like Drake’s, extreme remarks about the death penalty are merely “red meat for a political conversation,” says Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, who specializes in death penalty sentencing issues.

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