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Execution by firing squad

Execution by firing squad is a method of capital punishment, especially in times of war. A firing squad is a group of people (usually soldiers) who are ordered to shoot at the condemned person simultaneously. No single member of the firing squad can save the condemned person's life by not firing, reducing the moral incentive to disobey the order to shoot (see diffusion of responsibility).

Executions are usually carried out with high-caliber rifles to facilitate a quick death. The condemned may be seated or standing but is usually restrained. The condemned is often hooded or blindfolded.

In some cases, one member of the firing squad is issued a gun containing a blank cartridge instead of one with a bullet, without telling any of them whom it was given to. There are two theories supporting this practice. First, each can hope beforehand that he will not be one who contributes to the killing. This is believed to reduce flinching and to make the execution proceed more reliably. Second, it allows each of the soldiers a chance to believe afterward that he did not personally fire a fatal shot. While an experienced marksman can tell the difference between a blank and a live cartridge based on the recoil (the blank will have much lower recoil), there is a significant psychological incentive not to pay attention and, over time, to remember the recoil as soft.

The firing squad is commonly used to execute spies. It is often considered a particularly honorable method of execution, and as such is intentionally not used for war criminals, who are often hanged—a penalty associated with common criminals. Firing squads were, however, used by some countries to execute war criminals after World War II, most notably by Poland and Russia.

The method is also the supreme punishment employed by courts martial for crimes such as desertion or mutiny such as in the execution of Private Eddie Slovik by the U.S. Army in 1945 (Slovik was the first US soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War). It has also been applied for ordinary crimes carried out by soldiers, such as murder or rape. It may also be applied to other crimes committed by military personnel; as an example, French military engineer Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was executed by firing squad for his participation in an assassination attempt on President Charles de Gaulle.

Firing squads may also be used for political crimes. Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed by this method on 25 December, 1989.

Execution by firing squad is distinct from other forms of execution by firearms such as the "single shot from a handgun to the back of the neck". See execution by firearms.

Use of firing squads in the US

According to Executions in the U.S. 1608-1987 by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smylka, it is estimated that 142 men have been judicially shot in the United States and English-speaking predecessor territories since 1608, excluding executions related to the American Civil War. The Civil War saw several hundred firing squad deaths but reliable numbers are not available.

Capital punishment was suspended in the USA between 1967 and 1976 as a result of several decisions of the United States Supreme Court. It was "re-launched" by the execution of Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977 at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah by a five-man firing squad. The executioners were equipped with 30-30 rifles. They fired at a seated and hooded Gilmore from 20 feet (about six meters), aiming at the chest. Supposedly, one of the rifles was loaded with a blank, in accordance with tradition. Gary Gilmore's brother, Mikal, however, wrote in his memoir that he subsequently examined the shirt that Gary was wearing during the execution, and that there were five bullet holes in it.

In Utah, the firing squad made up from volunteers of peace officers from the county of which the condemned was convicted.

Since Gilmore's death, the only other execution by firing squad, that of John Albert Taylor in 1996, was also in Utah, which retained the firing squad as the default method of execution until 1980. The firing squad was banned in Utah by a law passed on March 15, 2004 [1], leaving Idaho and Oklahoma as the only states where it is still legal, although four Utah convicts that previously chose to die by firing squad will have their requests honored should they ultimately be executed.

Use of firing squads in the United Kingdom

See separate article Execution by firing squad in the United Kingdom

See also

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