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With lethal drugs in short supply, Wyoming considering firing squads

The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, in June 2010. It was used in 1977   to execute Gary Gilmore, the first inmate put to death after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume, and two other Utah inmates. (Trent Nelson/AP)

A Wyoming state legislative committee has asked staff to draft a bill that would allow condemned convicts to be executed by firing squad.

The bill comes as states that use the death penalty find it increasingly difficult to obtain the chemicals necessary for lethal injections.

Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert testified before the Joint Interim Judiciary Committee this week that the state should consider alternate methods of execution, including a firing squad. Wyoming has no lethal injection drugs on hand, Lampert said, according to the Associated Press.

Current law requires Wyoming to use lethal injection as a primary method of execution, but allows use of the gas chamber as a backup. But the state doesn’t have a gas chamber to use.

The committee will consider bringing back the firing squad at its next scheduled meeting in July. Wyoming has only one person on death row, a 69-year-old sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of a teenager.

The national shortage of drugs used in lethal injections stems from the European drug manufacturers who produce ingredients for the three-drug cocktail most states use. The European Union, which opposes the death penalty, had threatened to limit exports of one drug if it was to be used in executions.

Doctors and hospital groups have expressed concern that an E.U. ban on exports to the United States would hurt average patients. The drug, propofol, is a common anesthetic used in hospitals.

In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration asked several states to turn over their foreign-made lethal injection drugs to comply with a court order.

Many states moved away from methods of execution like the electric chair and gas chambers in the 1980s, toward what death penalty supporters said was a more humane way of taking life. Lethal injections typically followed a three-step process using drugs that would render a recipient unconscious, cause paralysis and finally stop the heart.

Utah was the last state to execute condemned prisoners by firing squad, though it outlawed the practice in 2004. The last prisoner to be executed by firing squad, grandfathered in before the 2004 bill was passed, died in 2010.

When legislators return to Wyoming’s capitol next year, they could also consider a measure to ban the death penalty entirely. That measure is sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Watt (R), a former state Highway Patrol trooper who was injured in the line of duty before entering politics.

“I’ve been shot,” Watt said at this week’s hearing, according to the AP. “And I don’t care how quickly death comes from firing squad. It still hurts, and it’s still terrifying. And I think it’s cruel and unusual.”

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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