Firing squads: Why the blank?

This article reminded me of something I felt was weird for a long time. In the article, it states that:

Why’s that such a big issue? It seems that since these men had been chosen or volunteered for the job, killing someone isn’t that big of an issue. After all, difficulty aside, they don’t have multiple levers for electric chairs so that the executioner doesn’t know if he’s the one pulling the real lever, or placebos in lethal injections. Why’s a firing squad so special?

Plus, couldn’t they rig a setup where one guy pulls a lever and 4 guns go off at the same time? I’m sure the executioner won’t have that problem

No, it actually is a big issue for the vast majority. The one blank allows each shooter some level of deniability.

Actually, I believe these execution methods also have deniability measures built in. Have to look it up to be sure.

Actually, I think that they do use placebos in lethal injections:

In any event, the “blank” gives people a moral out–“My gun may be the one with blanks. In fact, I’m sure it is.” Bang.

It’s tradition. The reason for the tradition is right there in the excerpt you quoted. Is it logical? Maybe not. Since I’ve never been part of a firing squad I don’t know if it’s a psychologically useful coping mechanism. I have a vague memory of hearing about an instance where all the men on the firing squad had live ammo (someone forgot to put a blank in one of the rifles) and the shooters were upset, but I’m not sure I can find any details based on such a vague recollection.

I think Utah is the only U.S. state that still does executions by firing squad, and they may allow hangings as well. And even they are doing away with the firing squad - they banned in 2004, but it sounds like people who were already on death row at the time of the ban are still allowed to opt for it.

Yeah, it’s primarily to allow an abdication of personal responsibility and soothe each shooter’s conscience.

It also functions to de-emphasize the individual’s role in the act itself, thus making the execution an act of the state/government, rather than any one person.

I’m not sure how effective the blank would be for that purpose, anyway. I’ve never been on a firing squad, but I have a feeling I’d know where my round hit. Also think I’d notice if I fired a blank. Seems like the sound/feel would be off slightly…

I don’t think it’s so much to help the shooters deny that they actively participated in an execution as much as it gets them to shoot in the first place.

Oak, I’ve never fired a blank from a rifle, but I have from a handgun. The feel is slightly off. But, as was pointed out above, the point is to let people engage in denial, so it needn’t have a strong factual basis.

This may be a holdover from when members of the firing squad were pressed into service. Nowadays, they are volunteers.

Electric chairs often had multiple switches as well. Wikipedia has this to say about West Virginia’s “Old Sparky”:

It’s called plausible deniability, it the whole theory behind the Japanese peer-to-pper filing sharing program “Perfect Dark.”

As for blanks…Well remember what Jon-Erik Hexumsaid: “Look there are blanks in the gun”

From the CNN article on this:

“Five anonymous marksmen will use matching .30-caliber rifles, standing behind a wall cut with five gunports. One of the rifles will be an “ineffective” round, similar to a blank, which delivers the same recoil as a live round. That ensures none of the riflemen will know who delivered the fatal shot.”

I think you’ve nailed it. Traditionally, firing squads weren’t professional executioners - they were ordinary soldiers who pulled really crappy duty. Killing someone from your own side, standing there tied to a post, requires massive amounts of self-justification.

Yeah, soldiers and lawmen generally resist the idea of shooting an unarmed man who is restrained and blindfolded.

Even volunteering to pull the trigger doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do it when the time comes.

In the US military, the wartime method of execution was firing squad. The squad would be drawn from your own regiment. The purpose was to allow the unit to clean up its own mistakes as it were.

Nowadays, the military has gone to lethal injection. Another tradition gone.

Really, firing squad sounds just about perfect.

I only heard today about the scheduled execution of Ronnie Lee Gardener in Utah in about four hours from now. NPR mentioned a .30-30 rifle. Now, there are lots of rifles chambered for .30-30, but I think the two most common are the late Winchester Model 94 and the Marlin 336. I have a Model 94, and it kicks like a mule.

I know there are – or were – wooden ‘blanks’ where the wooden projectile will disintegrate right out of the muzzle. I wonder if these wooden bullets would be visible to the shooter as they fly apart? The other thing I wonder about is mass. Wouldn’t an ‘ineffective round’ have a projectile that is much lighter than a jacketed lead bullet? And if so, how does it mimic recoil with which the shooter is probably very familiar?

From here.

Interesting that the news sites aren’t exactly sure about what the fake bullet is made out of.

I learned about this on a news story they did on the execution last night. I had always thought it was the other way around - that all the guns contained blanks, and that there was only one gun containing a live round. Having only one blank would increase the odds that you yourself fired a fatal shot.

Maybe it’s insurance against misses and malfunctions. You to get it over with quickly and cleanly, with as little scope for embarrassing/“inhumane” do overs.

Albert Pierpoint will be turning in his grave at all this talk of deniability and enabling executioners to have a good night’s sleep.