Utah became the only state to allow firing squads for executions today when Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law approving the method's use when no lethal-injection drugs are available. Herbert has said he finds the firing squad "a little bit gruesome," but Utah is a capital punishment state and needs a backup execution method in case a shortage of the drugs persists. "We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty, and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued," Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter says. "However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch."
The measure's approval is the latest illustration of some states' frustration over bungled executions and difficulty obtaining the drugs. Utah is one of several states seeking new forms of capital punishment after a botched Oklahoma lethal injection last year. States have struggled to keep up their drug inventories as European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment refuse to sell the components of lethal injections to US prisons. Opponents of the Utah measure say firing squads are barbaric, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah saying the bill makes the state "look backward and backwoods." Utah lawmakers stopped offering inmates the choice of firing squad in 2004, saying the method attracted intense media interest and took attention away from victims. Click for more on Utah's firing-squad history. (Read more Utah stories.)