Idaho Gov. Little has three very good reasons to veto firing squad bill | Opinion

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has a tough decision to make: Whether to sign or veto a bill that would make the firing squad a required method of execution if the state is unable to procure the drugs needed for lethal injection in death penalty cases.

Little has three very good reasons to veto the bill.

It’s expensive.

This is a fiscally conservative argument that Little could use to easily justify a veto.

We already know that it will cost an estimated $750,000 just to build a facility to perform executions by firing squad, according to reporting by Idaho Statesman reporter Kevin Fixler.

Add on the legal costs of the firing squad. South Carolina, which was the last state to add the firing squad, in 2021, is tied up in the courts over the firing squad, after a lower court ruled last fall that the state’s alternative execution methods of a firing squad or electric chair were unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press. The state’s supreme court kicked it back to a lower court to review whether prison officials have worked hard enough to find lethal injection drugs, according to Fixler. Even after that gets resolved at the state level, either side of the argument likely will appeal to the federal courts.

This promises to be a long, protracted legal battle. Because of the legal limbo, trying to use the firing squad could actually end up delaying Idaho death penalty cases even more.

His own agency doesn’t want to do it.

The Idaho Department of Correction was surprised by the firing squad bill this session, according to Fixler’s reporting, and was informed of its planned introduction in the days before it was publicly announced, a department spokesperson previously told the Idaho Statesman. Department Director Josh Tewalt advocated against reintroducing the firing squad during testimony on another execution-related bill last year, according to Fixler.

There are legitimate concerns for the mental well-being of the Department of Correction employees who would be tasked with pulling the trigger and shooting a condemned person.

It’s barbaric.

Little may not be a bleeding-heart liberal, and one could argue that killing someone, whether it’s a firing squad, lethal injection, hanging or gas chamber, is killing someone.

But pulling the trigger and putting a bullet in someone’s heart is a violent, barbaric act. It even moved conservative Rep. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, a retired police officer and combat veteran, to oppose the bill, on the grounds of how brutal a gunshot is.

“I’ve seen the aftermath of shootings, and it’s psychologically damaging to anybody who witnesses it. It’s, in a word, ‘brutal,’ ” he said Monday on the Senate floor. “And the use of the firing squad, in my opinion, is beneath the dignity of the state of Idaho. We have to find a better way.”

We recognize the argument that we have the death penalty on the books in Idaho, but if the state can’t procure the drugs for a lethal injection, the practical effect is that we don’t have the death penalty in Idaho.

Gerald Pizutto is awaiting the death penalty in Idaho, but his execution was put off because the state couldn’t get its hands on the lethal injection drugs.

So be it. We’ve chosen as a society to try to come up with the least offensive method of execution, attempting to mask the barbarity of it. Even though lethal injection has been fraught with mistakes with horrific outcomes, our society still considers lethal injection as a “humane” way to end someone’s life.

The firing squad would obliterate that foolish notion.

But even if Little doesn’t buy into the argument of the brutality and barbarity of a firing squad, he has other, very good conservative reasons to oppose it.

We also recognize that the firing squad bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, with enough votes to overcome a veto — that is, if no legislators change their votes.

Little should still make those arguments in an attempt to appeal to legislators’ fiscal conservatism when it comes to the costs and delays associated with the firing squad.

If legislators override his veto, at least he’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing that he tried.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser.