The South Carolina Senate voted on March 2 in favor of a measure that added firing squads as an alternative execution method for the state’s death-row inmates.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers voted 32–11 to give the bill a second reading. The measure, which would allow the state to restart executions after nearly a decade, states that the firing squad method may be used only if the state can’t execute condemned inmates by way of lethal injection.
Currently, South Carolina isn’t able to place inmates on death row as its supply of lethal injection drugs has expired, and it hasn’t been able to purchase more due to a shortage nationwide. The state’s last execution was in May 2011.
At present, condemned inmates are able to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection, and since the drugs aren’t available, many have chosen the lethal injection method as the state is then unable to force inmates to be executed by means of electrocution.
The Senate bill keeps lethal injection if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair if it does not. An inmate could choose a firing squad if they prefer.
The state has been unable to purchase lethal injection drugs for about five years, as drug manufacturers seek to limit how their products are used. As a result, two scheduled executions so far have been pushed back.
“For several years, as most of you know, South Carolina has not been able to carry out executions,” state Sen. Greg Hembree, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the Senate floor, The State reported. “Families are waiting. Victims are waiting. … The state is waiting.”
The House is considering a similar bill without the firing squad option, but it could also consider the Senate version after a procedural vote finalizes the bill later this week.
To date, there are 37 inmates on death row in the state.
Late last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) amended its protocols to allow executions to be carried out by alternatives that include electrocution, firing squad, and poison gas.
Effective Dec. 24, 2020, the latest rule allows authorities to allow death sentences to be carried out by lethal injection or use “any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed,” with some states permitting methods such as inhaling nitrogen gas or death by firing squad.
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed support for capital punishment and restarted the practice at the federal level last year after a 17-year hiatus. Trump argued that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is the first sitting U.S. president to openly oppose the death penalty and has discussed potentially instructing the DOJ to stop scheduling new executions, according to The Associated Press.
Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.