COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina senators voted Tuesday to bring back the firing squad as a method of execution, providing a second alternative should the state be unable to execute condemned inmates via lethal injection.
The bipartisan measure was proposed as an amendment to an execution bill that would make the electric chair the default method of execution amid a nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs, The State reported.
The Senate’s approval of the bill in a 32-11 vote essentially ends a forced 10-year moratorium on executions due to the supply shortage, The Associated Press reported.
According to nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, South Carolina is one of 28 states where capital punishment remains legal.
Current South Carolina law gives condemned inmates a choice between lethal injection and death by electrocution but cannot force them to die in the electric chair. In turn, the executions of inmates refusing the electrocution option have, to date, been postponed indefinitely while the state awaits the drug cocktails required for successful lethal injections, The State reported.
Meanwhile, the South Carolina House is considering a similar bill that does not include firing squads, but the chamber could also consider the Senate version after a procedural vote by senators finalizes the bill later this week, the AP reported.
The Senate measure’s supporters argued the change would provide closure to victims’ families, some of whom have waited years for death sentences to be carried out in South Carolina, The Washington Post reported.
“For several years, as most of you know, South Carolina has not been able to carry out executions,” state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, one of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, stated on the Senate floor. “Families are waiting, victims are waiting, the state is waiting.”
However, Democratic lawmakers have argued that racial disparities plague the handing down of death sentences in the state, where roughly 27% of the population is Black yet nearly half of the South Carolina’s current 37 death row inmates are Black, the Post reported.
“My question is if we adopt this, do we have that same kind of pattern where African Americans that are on death row receive it more often than others?” Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, asked on the Senate floor.
According to the AP, South Carolina’s death row population has decreased from about 60 inmates to only 37 since the last execution was carried out in May 2011 because of natural deaths and prisoners winning appeals and being resentenced to life without parole.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Gov. Henry McMaster’s office told The State that the governor supports changing the law to allow executions to be performed using any “reasonable” and constitutional method, including a firing squad.