Ronnie Lee Gardner Faces Firing Squad in Utah

Execution by firing squad, long associated with military tribunals, has been criticized by human rights groups as archaic and barbaric. In fact, the guillotine and the electric chair were introduced because they were seen as more humane than facing a firing squad.

"Firing squad conjures certain graphic images in people's minds that are especially disturbing," said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International's death penalty abolition campaign. "At the end of the day, we think there is no humane way to kill a human being... You're condemning a person to death. You're keeping them on death row and telling them, at one point we're going to take you into a chamber, strap you down and kill you."

Still, some say the firing squad isn't as barbaric as one might think.

"People think lethal injection is more human because it's related to medicine and doctors and a peaceful way of death, but in reality, it's not," said Deborah Denno from Fordham University. "It is an irony isn't it that the method we think is most barbaric to our perception and in our history is in fact the method that is most humane."

Modern firing squad executions in the U.S. have gone smoothly, but it was not unusual in the past for several rounds to strike the prisoner without killing him. In such cases, a final shot was fired at close range to put the inmate out of his misery.

"No man who has ever lived on this earth could survive four rounds from a .30-30 rifle to the chest," DeLand said. "You can almost almost shut your eyes and hit him from that distance."

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