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Utah Considering Death Penalty by Firing Squad

With the drugs most commonly used for lethal injections no longer available, Utah may revert to carrying out death sentences with a firing squad. 

The state of Utah has used lethal injection for most of its executions since 1977, but firing squads have remained an option in some cases. 

Ronald Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the Utah Legislature passed a bill in 2015 specifying that firing squads would be used if lethal drugs could not be obtained.

"The reason they went to lethal injection was because they did not like the image that was portrayed by using a firing squad," he said. "They thought it was bad for the state."

Utah has used firing squads throughout most of the state's history, and most recently used one in an execution in 2010. Dunham says there are currently nine people waiting on Utah's death row, although no execution dates have been set. He said earlier this year, a bill to end the death penalty passed in the state Senate but never came to a vote in the House.

Dunham says since the drug company Pfizer banned the use of its drugs for executions, only three states have announced they would use an alternative method. In addition to Utah, Oklahoma will use a gas chamber and Tennessee an electric chair. Dunham said most other states have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

"For the most part, states have chosen to do nothing, because most states aren't executing anybody right now and their constituents are not disappointed by that," he added. 

According to Dunham, in recent years, several polls have shown that among people who back the use of the death penalty, the majority support lethal injections but do not approve of using other, more violent methods. There are currently 19 states without a death penalty.