By Aaron Miller-
South Carolina has voted to bring back firing squad executions in a controversial vote that took place yesterday. It was voted 66-43 in favour of the bill, meaning South Carolina is now the fourth US state to add death by firing squad to its list of execution methods.
The decision is in direct opposition to the wishes of president Joe Biden, but individual states in the U.S have autonomy when it comes to the creation of their own laws.
The potential change in South Carolina law comes as states nationwide have hit barriers executing those on death row due to problems administering lethal injections, the widely preferred method in the US. Difficulties finding the required drugs have essentially paused executions in many states including South Carolina, which has not had an execution since 2011.
The new bill will provides death row inmates with the choice of death by firing squad or electric chair, should lethal injection not be available.
The bill changes the default method of execution to electrocution if lethal injections cannot be given, and offers the inmate the alternative of dying by firing squad. Lethal injection will remain an option utilized if the drugs are available.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday that he intends to sign the bill into law if it passes the state legislature.
“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law. I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk,” he said in a statement.
Several inmates still await execution in South Carolina – three of whom are now out of appeals, AP News reports. In total, there are 37 inmates on death row.
Opposition to the bill remains strong among some Democrats.
Democratic Representative Justin Bamberg said:
Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing. If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Weston Newton said, ‘Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out.
The passing of the bill yesterday comes after the Senate approved the bill back in March, when they voted 32-11 in favour of it. The House had only made minor changes to the March version, AP News reports.
Opposing Democrats in the House offered several amendments, including not applying the new execution rules to current death row inmates and livestreaming executions on the internet.
Now, after a routine final vote by the House, the Senate will sign it off and send it over to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster has already voiced his intention to sign it.
As it stands, 27 US states have the death penalty, while 23 don’t.