In death by Firing Squad, why is one man given a blank Shot?

The title^^

Theoretically, none of those on the firing squad will be SURE they made the shot that contributed to the death, although most will step in and say a blank feels MUCH different than a live round when fired.

Presumably so that each member of the firing squad can retain the faint hope that he’s not responsible for the convicted criminal’s death. But I’d have thought that any member of the firing squad who entertained such scruples wouldn’t be part of the squad in the first place.

My WAG, and the seemingly obvious answer, is so that each man has a chance of not being the one who killed the guy.

For what it’s worth, this website supposedly gives the protocol for death by firing squad in the state of Utah, and doesn’t mention anything about one guy shooting blank ammo.

Wikipedia (which information must always be taken with a grain of salt) does mention it. Relevant quote:

According to this page some states have a similar setup for lethal injection. Multiple people inject a syringe with the lethal injection into an IV line, but only one of the lines goes into the prisoner.

Yes it does!!

Maybe, as this was the first execution in the resumption of the American death penalty, this is the origin of the fact/myth.

I read book about an American soldier who volunteered to fight for England in WWI.

In one chapter he relates how he was picked for a firing squad detail. First, they were not told what their mission was until near the time of the execution. Second, there was one rifle with a blank round (they were supplied with the rifles for the execution), and third the troops were not exactly enthusiastic about executing a fellow soldier. In fact the yank purposelly missed and saw his shot hit the wall. The executed soldier’s crime was never mentioned.

IMHO when soldiers were executing one of their own might find some relief in knowing that the round in their rifle could be a blank. However, if the firing squad was for an enemy soldier or spy would a blank round be necessary. I assume that the level of remorse would be diminished since well they are the enemy and they were shooting them in the trenches just moments before.

Doesn’t a blank have significantly less recoil than a live round? I’ve never fired blanks, but I imagine if anyone was used to a particular weapon, they would realize it if they were.

Yes. You can tell the difference between firing a live round and firing a blank.

I think a lot would depend on the composition of the firing squad. In WW1 although the squad would be soldiers, they may not necessarily be trained marksmen and may not pick up on the difference between a blank and a live round. It would be a pretty emotive time. Of course that may heighten the senses so you would pick up on it. But in the Great War so many servicemen had become brutalised what was one more slaying?

Speculation: Maybe the WWI soldiers were told there was a blank in one of the guns, but that doesn’t mean that this was actually the case. Would they really be carting blanks around on the battlefield just for this purpose?

Normally wouldn’t happen on the battlefield- there was still a process that required a court martial (I am talking the British Army- including the Empire as it was). I can’t imagine a cahrge being so serious that it would need immediate execution AND requiring the formation of a firing squad.

Fair enough - I guess I was conflating courts martials with summary executions (which nonetheless did take place).

However, that still doesn’t prove that a blank was actually used.

You are absolutely correct- it proves nothing. And military justice was more about maintaining discipline than justice.

Now I will have to buy a book about this- I will tell Mrs Cicero to look for you!


The autor related that the soldiers were picked at random. Someone had a sargeant gather up a number of soldiers for the duty. The soldiers were picked from different squads, so the likelihood of any soldiers knowing each other was slim. The composition of the squad was not mentioned but the author had been on the front.

The execution was not carried out on the front lines.

The executee in this case presumably had a trial as a death sentence was read before the execution to the soldiers in the firing squad.

I don’t believe that marksmanship has much to do with it since the target is fairly close and ther are enough rounds to do the job.

The author seemed to suggest that it was not a pleasant detail and if told beforehand what their job would be many would try to get out of the duty. The blank, whether real or not, was mentioned because they were executing one of their own. Which begs the question if they were executing an enemy spy or a criminal would a blank be necessary?

This was nothing more than an interesting account about a firing squad with an historical reference of 1917.

I would assume that, regardless of the status of the man to be executed, the blank round would be used, simply because the executioners would be following a set policy, and no one would be interested in publishing several different sets of rules for something like this. Given how interested modern militaries are in documenting everything I wouldn’t be surprised if one of our military dopers could come up with anactual list of procedures.

Captured enemy soldiers were simply held as prisoners of war. Espionage, on the other hand, would presumably be tried in a full court (you can’t try an enemy in a court martial), with the usual execution method of hanging applying.

Once again, this is ignoring summary executions, massacres, etc.

Just for reference check out article 46 (click on convention texts and then convention I). The whole thing is a good read btw since it keeps getting bandied about.

BTW this is just an aside.

…but in WW1, the Geneva Convention didn’t cover prisoners of war.

There is the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. The full texts of which can be found here.

Again this is for informational (word?) purposes only.

I’m at work right now and don’t have the time to read through it. Although I do have the time to look on the boards.