Reading reports last week about bringing out the firing squad as a legal means of execution in South Carolina, some folks may have been surprised to note in the articles that Mississippi already has such an option.
To my knowledge, firing squads never have been put into use by the Mississippi corrections system, although shooting people is popular with gangs and drug dealers, judging from reports of fatal gunshots across the state, especially in and around our Capital City.
Unfortunately, some of those bullets kill or wound innocent people, including children. So if you believe in capital punishment, a firing squad might be an appropriate reward for those who indiscriminately fire weapons into cars and homes, killing occupants.
Mississippi used hangings as a means of execution from its early history until 1940, and state authorities were not hesitant to employ the method, sometimes as throngs of people watched.
Then came electrocution as, supposedly, a more humane and efficient way to put convicts to death.
The state had a portable electric chair, some called “Old Sparky,” that could be set up and used in the courthouse where the condemned person was convicted.
A gas chamber replaced the electric chair in the mid-1950s, and in 1984 the Legislature replaced the gas chamber with lethal injection.
Lethal injection remains the first option when and if there is another execution in Mississippi, but there hasn’t been one since 2012 in part because of lawsuits challenging the method of execution as well as legal challenges to the convictions of people on death row.
It was in 2017 that the Mississippi Legislature put firing squads into the execution options, much for the same reasons that South Carolina is now doing the same thing.
The Mississippi Legislature that year passed a law keeping lethal injection as the first option of execution, but in the event the courts rule the method unconstitutional, the state could fall back on the gas chamber, electrocution and firing squad in that order.
It seems unlikely a firing squad — a legal one that is — will ever be used to execute anyone in Mississippi.
As noted, it is the fourth option. If somehow the first three options are ruled out by the federal courts there’s no reason to believe the fourth one won’t be.
Despite the political rhetoric when that bill was passed in 2017, the death penalty may be on its way out in Mississippi, maybe not legally but as a practical matter.
Mississippi and most other states execute far fewer people than in the past, and some states don’t do it at all.
Juries these days are less inclined to favor the death penalty than they once were.
It costs a lot to go through all the legal appeals that are now necessary before anyone is executed. That includes making sure the accused has competent legal representation, and often the taxpayers have to foot that bill.
There are a lot of individuals and organizations opposed to capital punishment and dedicated to stopping executions when and where they can.
Popular novelist and former Mississippi state legislator John Grisham is among those opposing capital punishment, both in his writing and as a member of the board of the Innocence Project which focuses on wrongful convictions.
My guess is that as newer generations come along, they will not be as much for the death penalty as their grandparents are.
My own thinking has evolved on the subject. There was a time when I was all for the death penalty but not so much now.
I’m still for keeping capital punishment on the books but to be used only on the most incorrigible people convicted beyond any doubt of the most egregious crimes.
As for the method of administering capital punishment for those who truly deserve it, I don’t have any strong preference. But it does seem that with modern drugs that can put a person under within seconds for a medical procedure, lethal injection is the most humane; this in spite of the lawsuits against it which are causing politicians to consider firing squads.
Charlie Dunagin is editor and publisher emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal. He lives in Oxford.