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U.S. states could turn to firing squads if execution drugs scarce

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - Lawmakers for at least two U.S. states say they should conduct executions by firing squad if opposition to capital punishment by pharmaceutical companies makes it hard to obtain drugs for lethal injections.

States have turned to pharmacies that customize drugs and adopted untested new mixes after supplies of traditional execution drugs were cut off by manufacturers opposed to their use for the procedure.

The debate over lethal injections was reignited on Thursday when an inmate gasped and convulsed violently during his execution in Ohio as the state used a two-drug method for the first time in the United States.

Missouri state Representative Rick Brattin, said Friday the controversy over lethal injections forces families of murder victims to wait too long for justice so he introduced his bill Thursday to add "firing squad" as an execution option.

"A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot, but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death," said Brattin, a Republican. "This is no less humane than lethal injection."

Missouri, which is scheduled to execute an inmate in late January, uses lethal injection by statute and permits execution by gas, a method it has not used since 1965.

The United States has executed more than 1,300 prisoners since it resumed the death penalty in the 1970s, nearly 1,200 by lethal injection. Only Utah has used firing squads, executing three inmates that way since 1977, the last in 2010.

Brattin's bill follows a measure Republican Wyoming state Senator Bruce Burns introduced last week to add firing squad as an execution option for the state if drugs are not available.

"If I had my choice, I would take the firing squad over lethal injection," Burns said.

Wyoming law also allows inmates to be gassed, but the state does not have a gas chamber, Burns said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks the use of capital punishment, said the firing squad proposals show the desperation some lawmakers have to find a way around the issues raised by lethal injection.

Utah uses firing squads only at the inmate's option and is phasing out the method, Dieter said. Two death row inmates in Utah still have the firing squad option, he said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, editing by David Bailey and Andrew Hay)

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