Reading reports last week about the establishment of the firing squad as a legal means of execution in South Carolina, some people may have been surprised to note in the articles that Mississippi already has such an option.
To my knowledge, firing squads have never been used by the Mississippi corrections system, although shooting people is popular with gangs and drug dealers, judging by reports of fatal gunshots. throughout the state, especially in and around our capital.
Unfortunately, some of these bullets kill or injure innocent people, including children. So, if you believe in capital punishment, a firing squad might be an appropriate reward for those who indiscriminately fire guns at cars and homes, killing occupants.
Mississippi used hanging as a means of execution from its inception until 1940, and state officials did not hesitate to use this method, sometimes under the surveillance of crowds of people.
Then came electrocution, allegedly a more humane and efficient way of putting convicts to death.
The state had a portable electric chair, sometimes referred to as “Old Sparky,” which could be set up and used in the courthouse where the convict 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 has not been one since 2012 in part due to lawsuits challenging the method of execution as well as legal challenges. sentences of those condemned to death.
It was in 2017 that the Mississippi legislature put firing squads in execution options, much for the same reasons South Carolina is now doing the same.
The Mississippi legislature passed a law that year keeping lethal injection as the first option for execution, but in the event that the courts found the method unconstitutional, the state could fall back on the gas chamber, the electrocution and the firing squad in that order.
It seems unlikely that a firing squad – a legal firing squad – would ever be used to execute anyone in Mississippi.
As stated, this is the fourth option. If somehow the first three options are ruled out by federal courts, there is no reason to believe that the fourth will not.
Despite the political rhetoric when this bill was passed in 2017, the death penalty may be on the way out in Mississippi, maybe not legally, but in practice.
Mississippi and most other states execute far fewer people than in the past, and some states don’t at all.
Today’s juries are less inclined to favor the death penalty than they once were.
It is expensive to go through all the legal remedies that are now necessary before anyone is executed. This involves ensuring that the accused has competent legal representation, and often taxpayers have to foot this bill.
Many people and organizations oppose the death penalty and are dedicated to stopping executions when and where they can.
Popular novelist and former Mississippi state lawmaker John Grisham is among those who oppose the death penalty, both in his writings and as a board member of Project Innocence which focuses on wrongful convictions.
In my opinion, as the new generations arrive, they will not be as much for the death penalty as their grandparents.
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 am still for keeping the death penalty on the books, but to be used only on the most incorrigible people convicted of undoubtedly the most egregious crimes.
As for the method of administering the death penalty for those who really deserve it, I have no preference. But it seems that with modern drugs that can put a person under medical intervention in seconds, lethal injection is the most humane; this in spite of the lawsuits against him which lead politicians to consider firing squads.
Charlie Dunagin is writer and editor emeritus of the McComb Enterprise-Journal. He lives in Oxford.