Instigator / Pro

Firing Squad is the best form of capital punishment


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 3 votes and with 3 points ahead, the winner is...

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"Best" will be defined on basic pro and con analysis. While other execution types shall be discussed for comparison, our two methods will be the only under consideration for "best".

Round 1: Summary of our proposed form of capital punishment and outline of Round 2 main points.
Round 2: Explanation of why there is a need for reform plus opening arguments(can include pre-rebuttals, but no rebuttals).
Round 3: Rebuttals/Further Arguments
Round 4: Rebuttals/Closing(no new arguments)

Round 1
I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate, and I wish him the best of luck in making his arguments.

Many people disagree on whether or not we should continue to practice capital punishment. However, since it is currently in place, everyone can agree that we should use the most humane, cost-effective, and historically proven method available. These are terms that do not describe lethal injection as I will show later, which is why we must examine other methods that do meet this criteria.

That is why my chosen method is Firing Squad.

The criminal will be strapped to a chair with a bag placed over his or her head and a target placed on their heart. Five .30-30 Winchester rifles will be fixed in place behind a wall, aiming at this target. One gun will be loaded with a blank so that no one knows who killed the criminal, and no one can see the effect from behind the wall.

Round 2

I will begin by elucidating some of the more egregious issues with our current use of lethal injection as a means of execution. 

These will include how historically ineffective it has been, how painful it is, and how expensive/difficult to perform it is. 

My main points for Round 2 will go as follows: 

1. Less Painful/Quick death
2. Easily affordable
3. Historically proven
4. Tools for execution are abundant
5. Trained people will perform
6. Prisoner choices are irrelevant

These points will be used to prove both how firing squad remedies these problems, as well as some reasons why I believe my method of execution surpasses the benefits of utilizing my opponent's.

Thank you to everyone who chooses to read this, and I hope you enjoy the debate!
I would similarly like to thank my opponent, as he suggested this debate and I’m excited to see how it plays out.
As he states, and as I agree, we need a better system of capital punishment. I will get into the criteria that should define what the technique we use should be momentarily, though first, I will introduce my technique.
My chosen method is Nitrogen Asphyxiation.
To be clear, this will function in one of two ways depending on the facilities available. Either the condemned will be strapped to a chair and have a mask affixed to their face that feeds pure nitrogen gas into their lungs upon inhalation, or available chambers will be filled with this same gas, resulting in suffocation. Early efforts at this will require medical and engineering personnel on site to ensure the uninhibited flow of nitrogen gas and to monitor patient response. After this has been repeated several times without incident, prison staff may administer this method following protocols that have been clearly established during this period.
For the next round, I will begin by comparing my method to commonly (and uncommonly) used methods, including lethal injection, and establish what makes a poor method of capital punishment. These will be based on the following criteria:
1. The degree to which the method causes the condemned pain and suffering
2. The degree to which suffering is felt by those administering the punishment
3. How successful the method is at ending the life of the condemned
4. How expensive the method is
5. How difficult it is to apply the method consistently
Needless to say, I believe my analysis of these points will show that my method outstrips his in improving upon executions, though I will state outright that I believe both of our methods would be improvements.
Looking forward to a good debate, and I hope anyone reading this is as well!

Round 2
I would once again like to thank my opponent for debating this fascinating and important topic with me. Now onto my arguments/pre-rebuttals: 

Why Replace Lethal Injection?

Lethal injection is currently the main execution method of choice, despite its many shortcomings. The chemicals used for it are the primary concern. They have become scarce as companies have begun refusing to sell to prisons[1], which has made each execution cost nearly 15 times more in the period of one year. A Texas lethal injection costs around $1300 now, as opposed to $83[2].

Lethal injection has also has been proven to be rather inhumane. Autopsies of lethal injection victims in Ohio have been found to suffer pulmonary edema, as fluid rapidly and painfully filled the victims' lungs. Prisoner Robert Van hook was reportedly gasping for air during his execution[3]. Not only is this method painful, but it is the least effective out of any available method. It has a staggering 7% failure rate, which is worse than hanging[4]!

Finally, lethal injection is rather difficult to perform. It sometimes takes two hours before a suitable vein is found for execution[5]. We should not be poking and evaluating prisoners for hours before their execution. We need a simplistic and effective form of execution to remedy these issues. An obvious choice is firing squad.

1. Less Painful/Quick death

As I stated, lethal injection can be a rather painful way to die. This is not the case with firing squad. Adrenaline is a natural pain killer[6]. As a result, many people report not feeling any initial pain from gunshot wounds. This first-person example from a New Orleans reporter states just that. He said "That felt like someone just chunked a small pebble at me" and said it surprised him that it didn't hurt at all[7]. Pain comes later, which means that to make this form of execution humane, prisoners must die very quickly so that they do not suffer. Luckily an execution has been timed: murderer John W. Deering's heart stopped after 15.4 seconds[8]. Once the heart stops beating, unconsciousness will occur within 20 seconds[9]. So, this death will occur well under a minute. How about lethal injection and what my opponent propose? Lethal injection deaths occur within seven minutes barring complications[16]. Nitrogen gas asphyxiation, again, has never been utilized, so we don't have much evidence outside of conjecture as to the length of such an execution. However, gas executions in the past have taken ten to eighteen minutes[19].

2. Easily affordable

Firing Squad is one of the cheapest forms of execution. .30-30 Winchester bullets cost between $.70-$1.35 each[9]. This means each execution would cost at most $6.75[10]. Prisons already own guns, so no further startup cost should be necessary. But to be fair, let us presume that we must also purchase new firearms. The price range on Cheaper Than Dirt is $398.70-$1,062.32[17]. With the given ammo and bullet prices, this would cost between $1997-$5,318.35. My opponent, on the other hand, would need to build many new facilities to prevent guards and visitors from inhaling the toxic fumes[11]. Oklahoma's new gas chamber will cost $300,000 for one room[12]! Cost is clearly an issue for my opponent's case, as one room would cost more than 56x my worst case scenario.

3. Historically proven

My method is also historically proven to be effective. It has a 0% failure rate[4]. Gas has had a 5.4% failure rate, and my opponent must argue one of two things based off of this: either he accepts a higher failure rate or he must state that nitrogen gas is completely unrelated to other gassing executions. The latter brings up an interesting moral question for my opponent's case. There is not one piece of evidence to prove that nitrogen is good to use for execution because it has never been tried before[13]. Can we ethically use prisoners as guinea pigs as we kill them? Guns are designed to kill people, and have always done a great job of doing so. I suggest we don't experiment when lives are at stake, and that we go with a method that has never failed before.

4. Tools for execution are abundant

This is a simple argument: we have more guns that people in the US(40% of world guns are in this country)[20]. As stated before, drug companies had moral qualms about selling their drugs for executions, which has led to a shortage of the drugs. This won't happen with guns and ammo because their express purpose is to kill, and these companies therefore won't have moral qualms about selling to prisons that shall kill with them. Guns and ammo also have more purposes, such as stopping prison riots and fights, so they could argue that execution isn't the express purpose of the guns and ammo. However, nitrogen gas companies could have an issue with their product being re-purposed to execute criminals. Public pressure has proven to be rather crucial in starting such shortages for lethal injection[11]. 

5. Trained people will perform

It is quite easy to be trained with a gun. You need to fire a few hundred rounds at a range and know a few basics about gun safety. Lethal injection and my opponent's method are rather scientific in nature. They often include drugs and they would need someone with a medical degree, which requires years of education and is very expensive to obtain. It may be difficult for my opponent to find such an individual, as has been the case with prisons who use lethal injection. According to this Slate article, professional associations for doctors and nurses have banned their members from aiding in executions[14]. So my opponent, like most prisons, will have to rely on unqualified individuals to carry out the task. There isn't some overbearing professional shooter organization that will prevent gun-savy people from carrying out executions. In fact, normal prison guards can carry out this task. Correctional officers, like police officers, receive firearms training before they begin serving[18].

6. Prisoner choices are irrelevant

This may seem like an odd point, but it is crucial to consider during capital punishment reform. Drug abusers' veins are much harder to find[5] and they can have a resistance to some of the drugs. Fortunately, nobody can take a drug that makes them bullet-proof. My opponent may find difficulty in ensuring a quick, painless death because of the prisoners choices during the execution. Anesthesiologist, Dr. Joel B. Zivot says "Nothing is known about what might happen if the prisoner resists by thrashing or breaking the seal of his mask — or by refusing to breathe, which could lead to a painful accumulation of carbon dioxide in the lungs."[15] Refusing to breathe for a few more moments of life may cause immense pain for the inmate. However, in my method, they cannot thrash around, as they are bound to the chair. Their choices before prison and during the execution cannot impede them receiving a quick, humane death.

I hope that I have given sufficient evidence as to why we should utilize firing squad as our main form of execution. There are so many benefits to this method, and it has been historically proven to work, unlike that of my opponent's. I look forward to seeing the proposed benefits of nitrogen asphyxiation, and I once again wish my opponent the best of luck in making his arguments.


As I mentioned in my opening round, there are five criteria that I will use to suss out what is the “best” means of meting out capital punishment. Luckily, many of these overlap with my opponent’s criteria, so we will likely find common ground on the type of assessment, even if we disagree on how to use it. I will spend this round detailing why each of those methods is best met by nitrogen gas.
1.  Causing the condemned pain and suffering

We agree that suffering should be as limited as possible in order to ensure we do not impose cruel and unusual punishment or step outside the bounds of justice to pursue vengeance. So, which of these methods imposes the least amount of pain before the condemned is killed?
Lethal injection (LI) is tricky. Sodium thiopental induces unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide causes muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest, and potassium chloride stops the heart.[1] This may take many minutes, but if all the drugs are successful, the patient won’t be conscious of any pain or suffering. If any of these drugs fail, particularly the thiopental, they can die in a much more gruesome way (often due to an inability to breathe) and feel it the whole way.[2]

Nitrogen asphyxiation (NA) is more straightforward. According to the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation board, in humans, “breathing an oxygen deficient atmosphere can have serious and immediate effects, including unconsciousness after only one or two breaths. The exposed person has no warning and cannot sense that the oxygen level is too low."[3] Note that that is just one or two breaths of gas to induce full anesthetic effects. It’s physiologically inert, meaning that the sole effect of breathing it in is a reduction of total oxygen content in the body. Since they are still breathing out carbon dioxide, they don’t experience the pain or trauma normally associated with suffocation.

Firing squad (FS) is also mostly straightforward. If the condemned is shot in the heart, then the effect is very rapid, with electrical activity usually stopping in under 30 seconds.[4] That, of course, assumes good aim. A report out of the Salt Lake City Tribune provides an example of a condemned individual who took several minutes to die after being shot in the hip and abdomen, during which he no doubt suffered painfully.[5]

2. Causing collateral suffering

The condemned is not the only person in the room when the death penalty is administered. Other people who are hired for the purpose are brought into some form of contact with the condemned and administer the given method to end the life of the condemned. While they accept a certain degree of risk from their jobs, it should be taken as a given that their suffering should be as close to 0 as possible. Any degree of suffering on their part falls well outside of the bounds of justice.

Currently, executioners have higher rates of PTSD than Iraq war veterans (31% to 20%).[6] That toll is with a system that largely relies on LI.

Surmising the likely effect of a different execution method on psychology is, admittedly, difficult. This is largely due to a lack of studies comparing these, primarily because there are so few FS executions.[7] However, what makes these different is the degree to which one is separated from the outcome. Vietnam totally abandoned the FS in favor of LI for this reason: the distress their shooters experienced was simply overwhelming.[7] The process of watching someone bleed out because of a shot you fired is enough to elicit psychological trauma. Regardless of the justification, it can have long-standing emotional impacts.[8, 9] The psychological effects are not limited to the executioner. Executions are often viewed by the family of the victim, who would be subjected to watching a bloody and destructive death. Even the process of cleaning up these corpses is traumatic and results in both PTSD and Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, often due to repeatedly cleaning up after bloody, brutal murders.[10, 11] Considering that these are suffered by people with little to no context on the cause of these deaths, there is no reason to believe that the outcome would differ for those cleaning up after an execution.

This problem is amplified by going beyond those directly involved. Polls conducted of people in the US found that 53% view the FS as cruel and unusual punishment, while only 18% would ascribe the same to LI.[12] That might not sound like a big problem, but a full-on switch to FS against public interest is bound to bring a legislative response, making it much more difficult for prisons to enforce the death penalty without reprisal. While the gas chamber does have a similar disapproval rating, that rating does not take NA into account, and considering its implementation and effects do not resemble other gas-based executions, that number is likely to change drastically if applied to NA alone.

3. Botch rates

We want to end a life consistently. So, what are the error rates for each method?

LI has about a 7% botch rate. FS has a 0% botch rate. NA hasn’t been tried yet, so there is no data for it.

However, let’s be clear about that number for FS. It represents just 34 of the almost 9,000 executions between 1890 and 2010. We can’t extrapolate much from such a small number, especially since most of them took place in a single state, and we’re talking about nationwide implementation.[7]

4. Expense

A method that puts the least financial strain on the system is more beneficial than another that does not. The more strain it places on the system, the more likely that different systems may implement it differently.

LI costs about $1,300 per inmate.[13] As might be expected, this prohibitive cost leads to the use of a lot of experimental drugs that treat the condemned like guinea pigs.

Given my lack of knowledge on firearm costs, I will defer to my opponent’s numbers on this.

As for NA, a facility only needs 2 things: a nitrogen gas tank and a clinical plastic face mask to deliver it through. The former can be refilled, latter can be sterilized and re-used (though, given the cost, this may not be necessary). Large tanks of nitrogen gas tend to cost between $60 and $80 through Airgas, with prices varying based on shipping.[14]A simple oxygen mask costs $7-10 from Walmart, nicer ones for about $50.[15] If a facility already has a chamber on hand, they could choose to use that instead.

5. Result of inconsistent application

Before I get into the specifics of this, I need to clarify what I mean by “inconsistent” here. In this case, it doesn’t just mean the effective death rate following application (as with #3). It addresses what results from failures of the method. How long will it take to determine that the given method has failed? Can the method be re-applied, and in the process, are you causing the condemned undue harm?

For injections, the answers to these questions are obvious: once the drugs are in their systems, they must either end the person’s life or be eliminated from their systems. If it’s a failure, they will likely suffer egregious physical harm in the process and may be a subject to yet another set of drugs in the future that could cause a similar outcome. A failure of any single one of the drugs injected could mean excruciating pain that is both undue and excessive.

How about the FS? In instances where the squad misses the heart, even though the condemned has terminal wounds, they would bleed out slowly. It would take time to verify their survivorship, and therefore any necessary follow-up shots would also be delayed. In the meantime, the condemned may be suffering from multiple gunshot wounds for minutes at a time.

Now, let’s look at nitrogen gas. Assuming a failure (i.e. not enough gas entering their lungs to end their lives), there are two possible outcomes. Either they receive enough nitrogen gas to render them unconscious but not dead, in which case the apparatus can be checked for holes and reapplied without harm or incident, or the condemned remains conscious because they receive some nitrogen gas, which may cause some of the symptoms of hypoxia (headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and euphoria), but nothing else. The degree of undue harm that can be caused to the condemned by botching is minimal.[16]

Given all of this evidence, nitrogen gas is not just a better method than those commonly used today, but is the best available method for enforcing the death penalty. I look forward to both seeing my opponent's responses and rebutting his points on my case.

Round 3
Your source 5 never mentioned that the man suffered when getting shot in the abdomen and hip: you assumed it. As I stated before, adrenaline often reduces pain from gunshots. However, you mentioned that he still died within a couple minutes, which is still quick. Here is an example of someone not feeling gun shot pain, even running on a leg that got shot[15].
Prisoners wouldn't feel the pain of suffocation with your method so long as they do not hold their breath to delay their execution, which you cannot prevent. Also, there is no research to suggest whether or not you should release the gas quickly or slowly to be more effective[16].
My opponent mentions some difficulties with executions in Vietnam in his source 7 related to psychological trauma. However, I found quite a few discrepancies between how Vietnam does FS and my R1 outline. These criminals were tied to stakes, which his source said leads to larger potential for error. It was also never mentioned if they were behind a wall (which would prevent executioners from viewing it), and it didn't mention that any of them had a blank in their gun(which provides doubt that they even contributed to the killing). This negates my opponent when he states that: "The process of watching someone bleed out because of a shot you fired is enough to elicit psychological trauma". As my opponent concedes, the PTSD of executioners in the US is associated with LI, not FS. Furthermore, I would argue that my opponent's method would cause a large traumatic toll on the executioner, because they would know for a fact that they killed the prisoner. They released the nitrogen, and no one would have died had they not released the deadly gas. This is similar to the story of John Hurlburt, who "flipped the switch" for the electric chair. This source says "It's hard enough to throw the switch, harder still if he accepts in the slightest that he's about to kill in cold blood". The idea that he was killing people drove him to eventually commit suicide[1].
First off, you say that the family of the victim "would be subjected to watching a bloody and destructive death". The family will not be "subjected" to anything. Viewing an execution is completely voluntary and 'subject', by definition means "cause or force to undergo". Also, I read an account of Ronnie Lee Gardner’s execution by FS. There was no mention of seeing blood or destruction as my opponent states would happen. They heard a few shots, his hands moved a bit, and then he went limp shortly after[9]. I created my standards in R1 around how Gardner was executed.
FS is on a positive trend in public opinion. Admittedly, LI is far ahead in the polls. However, from 1985 to 2014, FS has gone from 3% to 9% of being considered the most humane form of execution. Gas chamber has gone down from 8% to 4%.[7]
I read your Source 11 about supposed PTSD and STS. I found it quite interesting that prosecutors, animal shelter workers, and therapists also suffered from STS. Your source even stated that hearing about traumatic events can cause STS. This is more of an issue with the death penalty itself, not the firing squad. As long as people have to deal with dead bodies and someone is required to put them to death, there will always be issues of this sort, no matter the method. Morticians suffer from high levels of anxiety and stress without even being connected to the killing[8]. I didn’t see a mention of PTSD being linked to cleaning up “bloody and brutal murders”. I am sure it would be. Luckily, four bullets holes in a relatively small area of the torso isn’t something likely to be construed as “brutal”.
As my opponent agrees, there is no data for nitrogen asphyxiation. So, I will directly pose the question: how can we ethically use prisoners as guinea pigs? In the past, governments have used prisoners as test subjects. The US government also refused to treat prisoners with syphilis to view its effects, hepatitis was given to mental patients, etc[2]. So, it is quite obvious that the government should not be given such power to experiment on inmates, especially when dealing out their deaths. Furthermore, my opponent may need to forcibly implement these experimental methods. Would prisoners be given consent forms to agree to these experiments? This California Law Review paper states "because of their high illiteracy rates and low education levels, prisoners are likely to have difficulty understanding complicated consent forms and might even be confused about basic experimental protocols."[3] This means my opponent would either give the government the right to forcibly experiment on prisoners, or he would unethically take advantage of their low education levels.
My opponent states that only 34 executions have been done by my method to try to diminish the astounding 0% failure rate. However, there is a lot of data to work with to continuously improve it. A few decades before prison execution records were kept, 433 men were executed by firing squad in the Civil War[4]. It is a historically proven method. For more current information, I must mention that FS is used in 28 countries worldwide[5]. So, the supposedly low number of executions in the US by no means offers doubt to firing squad's efficacy, as data about FS is quite extensive. Also, nationwide implementation will have no effect on how this works. There will be strict rules on weaponry used and where bullets are fired. They will all be required to follow specific guidelines to standardize the execution. It has worked in Utah, so doing it the same exact way in California or Florida won’t change the effectiveness of FS.
As I stated in my pre-rebuttal for expense, my opponent would need to build a gas chamber in order to protect those around the convict during the execution[6], which will cost around $300,000[13]. My opponent stated that "just one or two breaths" will cause a loss of consciousness. So, that means that even a small leak can potentially cause a lot of prison staff to faint and fall on the floor, potentially sustaining injuries. I looked at my opponent's Wal-Mart link. The actual price range was $.98-$138.18. My opponent left very little information related to standardizing his process, so I am going to assume that prisons would buy some of the cheaper options to save money. A review of a cheaper product says "Adult mask fits a small face but not adult, especially a man."[10] Well, that would definitely lead to a leak or potentially even allowing the prisoner to flail and get the mask off. My opponent also didn't provide any standardizing information for how much gas should be used each time, meaning that the cost and effective rate will be hard to determine. Since my opponent was so vague in his R1 specifications, we have to assume that not every prison makes the correct choice of mask, and that poses all of the aforementioned dangers. 
FS won't likely ever fail. A target is placed directly over the heart, and the guns are pre-aimed, then fixed in place inside of the wall. Assuming that this simple procedure is somehow botched, lungs, major arteries, and veins are directly around the outside the heart[11]. They will die quickly, even assuming that the shots missed their mark. If it were botched, this would be discovered at one minute, since I proved last round that death should occur well under a minute. If the heart is still beating, they will reload their guns, adjust their aim if necessary and fire again.

However, I believe it is necessary to relay why I believe it is highly unlikely that this botching will occur. That is mainly because the .30-30 Winchester round is meant to take down whitetail deer, feral hogs, and black bear, and has an effective range of 200 meters[14], which is well over the qualifications needed for such an execution.

As stated in R2, my opponent will have prison staff execute criminals, not medical professionals, as doctor and nurse professional associations banned them from aiding in executions[12]. If we want to assume that my opponent wants to potentially knock out and kill others in the room by using cheap masks, not building gas chambers, and not having any qualified personnel carry out the execution, then reapplying the gas might not hurt them very much when a botched execution inevitably occurs.
My opponent accurately remarks that botching his method could cause headaches and nausea, which would be quite uncomfortable for the convict.

Before I start into Pro’s points (I will address his R2 responses next round), I will analyze Pro’s plan. His case relies on consistency of application, yet each of the planks of his plan still allow for variability.

First, the restraints. Different prisons may use different types of restraints, may restrain fewer parts of the condemned, may restrain them more loosely, etc. Each state will develop protocols of how to do this, resulting in potentially different outcomes based on location.

Second, fixing the position of the rifles. Assuming individual prisons verify their accuracy by shooting at a target, this would have to be checked repeatedly after each reload to ensure that the aim is kept consistent. Pro can’t guarantee that every prison will do this. Moreover, it’s impossible to fully remove the influence of the shooters. Even allowing for a small degree of shaking (it depends how well “fixed in place” these guns are) could dramatically alter their aim.

Third, the blank. The benefits of this rely on a lack of experience, yet Pro seeks experienced individuals to carry this out. That experience gives them enough tactile information to know the difference between shooting a blank and shooting a bullet. The recoil is absent when firing a blank cartridge, and even from a fixed location in a wall, that recoil will be felt by the shooter.[17] They will recognize the difference, and in doing so, be firmly aware of their participation (or lack thereof) in the execution.
Onto the points.
1. Speed/Pain

Pro argues that FS affords a less painful and quick death. My stats largely agree with his, so I won’t contest the length of time that it takes for an individual be shot in the heart to die. However, I have three problems with his point.

First, Pro does not acknowledge the possibility that the use of a FS may not result in an individual being shot in the heart. Regardless of how trained the shooters and how perfect the set-up, Pro cannot fully account for human error in every state across the country, especially as there may be very different protocols used in different states. Much as Pro might not see much difference between 30 seconds and a few minutes, that extra time could feel like an eternity to someone suffering terrible pain from a series of gunshot wounds.

Second, adrenaline is not the cure-all Pro wants it to be. Pro’s example is a victim of a mass shooting, not someone who was informed ahead of time that they would be targeted by 5 men in a small room. That’s an important distinction for two reasons: anticipation and distraction. We don’t know precisely what effect that has on the ability of the condemned to feel pain (kind of hard to poll them when every individual who could have told us is dead). However, the anticipation of pain, by itself, inspires a great deal of dread that can overwhelm even extreme pain.[18] More importantly, Pro doesn’t cite any literature on the pain reduction caused by adrenaline. So, let’s do that. Experiments have been conducted that show that applying adrenaline to a wound. The effect is variable, and this is with large amounts of injected adrenaline, far higher than the body produces. Most importantly, the pain reducing effects of adrenaline seem directly related to distraction, i.e. they were engaged in something else and the adrenaline increased their mental focus on that alternative.[19] Pro would have us believe that the condemned are distracted often distracted in their final minutes.

Third, the rapidity of the death only matters in relation to the pain experienced. The length of time that it takes to occur is not important so long as it is not accompanied by the prolonging of pain. NA doesn’t cause pain, as even the worst symptoms of hypoxia are ameliorated by euphoria and elation.[16] FS is direct injury to the body, and therefore can and likely will elicit a pain response. Just because it is short-lived doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential.
2. Affordability

Cross-apply my own arguments on the affordability of NA. Pro would have to justify why a chamber is necessary to carry out the sentence if NA is used. Remember, even if it reduces overall consistency to use a mask, the condemned does not suffer from botches with NA.

3. Proven

Cross-apply my arguments about the degree to which each technique is historically proven. Pro fails to mention just how few FS executions have been, which throws his “0% failure rate” into a problematic context. There simply aren’t enough FS executions to justify a claim that a very limited number of failures (meaning instances where the condemned dies painlessly within 30 seconds, I’ve cited one such failure [5]) portends no future failures, nor is there a clear and well-established protocol (in the US or elsewhere) that has received enough testing to warrant such a claim. There are simply too few instances of this execution being used over too long a stretch of time.

As for NA, while it hasn’t been used as a means of execution, that does not mean there is no medical literature on its effects. Hypoxia induced by breathing too little oxygen (or replacing it with another gas, like nitrogen) has been studied extensively. There are numerous case studies of its usage in suicides and high-altitude pilot training.[20] To be clear, this means that both applied (suicide) and incidental (pilot training) exposure to hypoxia induced by nitrogen produces no perceivable pain and prolonged exposure in both instances can result in death. Much as there is a long history of FS, there are no similar studies establishing a lack of pain.
4. Availability of Tools

Pro claims that public pressure against NA could reduce the availability of the gas to prisons. This may be possible, but it seems extremely unlikely. The comparison to the shortages for lethal injection is problematic because the number of producers of those drugs is extremely limited, partly due to the already small size of the market they inhabit and partly due to intellectual property issues. By contrast, the process of generating cannisters nitrogen gas is far simpler and is performed by more companies, meaning more companies would have to succumb to this browbeating. For that matter, the purpose of acquiring nitrogen gas can be far more uncertain, as it is used for a variety of purposes, including medicine, cooking, and welding.[20] That means that the reason for acquisition will always be subject to some uncertainty, as opposed to LI drugs, which are highly restrictive in their functions. Also, cross-apply my argument about how public backlash can affect implementation of FS, regardless of the availability of tools. Given the novelty of NA, the public will have the opportunity to warm to it. FS, on the other hand, evokes strong feelings currently, and there is no reason to believe that that will change under Pro’s plan.
5. Availability of Personnel

Pro argues that it’s easier to get trained personnel to perform FS than it is to get doctors and nurses to perform NA. However, FS requires trained shooters every time it’s done to ensure somewhat consistent results, while NA benefits medical personnel to establish the equivalent of standard operating procedures. Note the word “benefits” instead of “requires” and note the time scale. Medical professionals would help establish best practices, but they are not required to efficiently deliver nitrogen gas through a mask designed for the purpose.[20] Also, any benefit of repeat visits is minor, meaning that prisons would only gain substantial benefits by having them there for the first and perhaps second executions. This could be made even simpler by establishing a federal standard based on the first few executions nationwide. And while medical personnel are told by some professional associations not to assist in the death penalty, enough still do that getting that support is entirely feasible.[21] What’s more, those associations don’t have much in the way of sway over most medical professionals, with the one example my opponent provides representing only 20% of doctors and nurses, and the only punishment they can mete out to those who defy the ban is revoking that membership.[22] Efforts to further punish these medical professionals have largely been blocked by court orders.[21]
6. Prisoner Choice

Pro argues that patients can resist the procedure. This is non-unique – individuals can thrash against their bonds and resist being placed into the chairs that are used for FS, increasing the pain they experience before execution and reducing shot accuracy. If it is possible to fully prevent any thrashing in FS, the same must necessarily be true of NA, which can employ the same restraints to prevent the condemned from damaging equipment. As for refusing to breathe, two responses. One, it’s also non-unique: the condemned can hold their breath to induce pain before a FS just as easily as they can with a mask strapped to their face. Inflicting pain on oneself in this fashion doesn’t require NA, it just requires a desire to do so. Two, I don’t see how the choices of the condemned to cause themselves pain or discomfort should reflect on the institution or the technique used. A condemned prisoner choosing to injure themselves before they are executed does not reflect on the execution itself, since the pain they experience is not caused by the method by the condemned themselves. At worst, they prolong the experience, though not by much given that the most they could do is render themselves unconscious.

Round 4
Restraints only require the torso to be held in place for my method, since the target is on the heart. The only objective of the prison is to prevent torso movement. That is the standard, but doing extra could be up to state discretion.
Accuracy doesn’t need to be verified at all immediately before the firing squad, but there are different ways than that which you propose. Laser bore sighters can be put in the barrel to show directory[1], which can cause near perfect consistency. However, a shot from a few yards away won't likely need any sort of practice and the effects of shaking would be minimal without a long distance to exaggerate the effects.
There are multiple types of blank rounds. A blank round is simply any round that has black powder and no bullet or shot[2]. The type of blank used in Gardner’s execution was a wax bullet, which provides a much more realistic recoil[3].
The protocols used in the botched execution were not those that I proposed. As I proved in previous rounds, correctional officers are trained with firearms. These trained individuals are providing enough firepower to kill four black bears, and even a moderate miss will hit a lung or major artery, as I proved. Four trained riflemen with large caliber rifles shooting at a short range aren’t likely to ever botch this execution.
You mentioned that dread is worse than pain. This is a criticism of the death penalty, not just FS. Your source 18 stated people were willing to endure pain to avoid dread. Unless you are suggesting that prisoners aren’t afraid to be gassed to death, this is against both of our methods. People are afraid to die. This is proven by the fact that criminals are more likely to accept plea bargains if threatened with the death penalty[4]. They want to avoid death, and they will dread death when it comes. That very dread works to reduce pain. My opponent just stated that the adrenaline wouldn’t help. His source stated that except for electrical stimulation, all other types of pain were either reduced or stayed the same. However, my opponent’s dread point and adrenaline point work together to prove that they will unlikely experience pain. Natural body pain killers experienced from stress(dread) work together with adrenaline to reduce pain as much as marijuana[5].
I agree the rapidity of death is important in relation to pain. However, again, four times the fire power to kill a black bear (which can grow to 660lbs[6]) in an area surrounded by vital organs and veins using modern weaponry isn’t likely going to fail, and four more rounds can be loaded after the one minute mark.


It wouldn’t be too fair to add points as to why a gas chamber is needed since my opponent couldn’t respond. My opponent in R1 stated that a gas chamber would be used if available. If he mentioned that, it means there are benefits such as lower chance to botch. He mentions that consistency is reduced by using a mask, which leads to botching. I am surprised that my opponent has such a nonchalant attitude towards a quick death, especially since he went to great lengths to incorporate the "dread" smear to FS. I’m left wondering: since people choose pain over dread and CON doesn’t care to be consistent and quick about death, wouldn't the couple minutes-long dreadful contemplation of death with NA be worse than 30 seconds of pain with FS(if pain was present at all)?


You have cited one instance from 1951 in which the death took longer than 30 seconds. I am not sure if my opponent believes that no technological innovations have occurred between then and the execution I model after Gardner in 2010. Also, as I stated last round, 28 countries use FS. We can view data on their executions and see what went wrong and right in order to be as effective as possible. I iterate, your method doesn’t have this luxury of being proven at all for executions. My opponent gives suicide data to justify NA use. Well, does that mean that the 20,000 Americans who use guns for suicide can also be included in my data[7]? Because, if so, my opponent must entirely drop the lack of data available point.  


 Prisons likely attempted the multiple uses excuse with LI drugs. Sodium thiopental is just an anesthetic[8], but it isn't being sold to prisons anymore. So, stating that it is “extremely unlikely” to happen with nitrogen gas is not accurate. You argue that the range of applications is larger, but you offer no evidence that prisons use nitrogen for those purposes, so some or all prisons couldn't hide it. You mention how cheap the nitrogen is. Will companies take the “browbeating” and sell to prisons? Do you really think they will suffer that negative publicity to make $60-$80 considering it can negatively affect overall sales[9]? As I have proven in my last round, FS is trending positively in public opinion, while gas chamber is downwardly trending. My opponent argues for novelty without providing evidence of novelty aiding public opinion in the past. As I argued last round, it very well could lead to aversion to NA because it will be associated with human experimentation, which could evoke memory of our syphilis studies in which we experimented on prisoners. In addition to this, my opponent would have a hard time explaining to the public how using gas masks and deadly gas is so much different than using gas masks and another type of poisonous gas. Either it is novel and experimental or it is the same as current gas chamber statistics, and therefore less popular than FS.


My opponent failed to substantiate his claim that FS needs trained personnel with any sources. I will work around this, though. Let us assume that FS requires trained personnel to make an easy shot from a few yards away. As I stated earlier in the debate, every single corrections officer has firearms training, meaning that every single prison has perfectly qualified individuals to carry it out. So, my method would have prison guards that have been fully trained in the use of firearms, while my opponent would have nobody qualified in administering nitrogen gas. Again, my opponent has a lackadaisical attitude towards having botched executions by stating doctors and nurses would only be beneficial to the execution. He cares not to effectively administer the execution, and thus end any “dread” they would experience, which my opponent stressed so much in point 1. The National Practitioner Data Bank could take away physicians’ ability to practice medicine, which doesn’t just represent 20%[10]. You were referring to the AMA, which holds its members to comply with their oath to do no harm, something everyone in the health field pledges to do(meaning it won't only apply to the members' morality). Also, according to their membership reports, the AMA has been continuing to increase in numbers since your 2014 article, meaning they are gaining more influence over those doctors and nurses you need to facilitate effective executions[11]. Again, there is no organization that in any way restricts correctional officers from aiding in executions.


Actually, no, the restraints wouldn’t be the same for FS and NA. They would be similar. However, there is a difference between a target on the heart and a mask on the face. You would need to restrict head movement to stop the mask from getting flung off, meaning potentially strangulating neck restraints would be necessary depending on the mask. I could find no issues with restraints being inadequate to maintain good accuracy for FS as you didn't provide a source. My opponent missed my point for not breathing. Sure, they could refuse to breathe for FS as well, however they have absolutely no incentive to do that. It will not delay or prevent getting shot at all. However, it will delay NA effects as long as the individual holds their breath. They now have an incentive to hold their breath because they will live for an extra minute or two before they die. They can think about their family, pray, etc. So, while they could hold their breath for FS, they wouldn’t. They aren’t trying to hurt themselves for the heck of it, they are trying to survive. Also, yes, incentives for prisoners to injure themselves should be taken into consideration. During FS, as I mention, no action that they commit will in any way prolong the death. However, with NA, they are given the ability to prolong their lives. My opponent gives them that power and incentive and expects them not to take it. Finally, allowing prisoner choices such as not breathing allows inconsistencies to arise in application. My opponent is right in saying that prisoners holding their breath do eventually fall unconscious, however my point was that they will experience pain, which you pretend is completely avoidable with NA.
I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate. I believe that both of our methods would be an improvement over LI. However, the availability of guns, qualified personnel, low cost, 30 second death, lack of prisoner influence, FS' uncertainty of contribution to killing, and non-experimental nature give FS the edge over the potential benefits of NA. Thanks to everyone that reads this debate. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I have!

Pro decides to specify his case in some rather important (and abusive) ways for this final round. The addition of the laser sights and the wax bullet are particularly heinous; both of those are brand new this round, and the latter is a shift from a blank round to a blank round +. Voters should hold him to his original case. Regardless, none of these remove the variability that results from different means of implementation. None of these remove all doubt of the stillness of the condemned or the aim of the rifles.

This debate essentially breaks down to two issues: between FS and NA, which is more feasible and is more beneficial?

I. Feasibility

Which method is more likely to stand the test of time? Both our methods are cheap, so this comes down to public backlash.

Pro wants you to believe that that public backlash will stop the sale of nitrogen gas canisters to prisons. His only warrant is that they did it with LI drugs. Two concessions belie this comparison. One, there is a far larger availability of producers of nitrogen gas, meaning that far more companies would have to succumb to public pressure. Two, the specific uses of nitrogen gas: medicine, cooking and welding. These are all clearly important in a range of industries, including prisons. Meanwhile, LI drugs have singular purposes. Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic, regardless of where it’s used, including LI. Prisons can claim any number of purposes for nitrogen. Nitrogen gas will continue to flow into prisons.

Lobbying Congress, on the other hand, can be effective. Pro argues that the public is already predisposed against gas chambers, failing to note that a lot of that negative response has to do with the gasses used and not the physical implements involved.[23] Pro drops the preponderance of data on the effects of nitrogen gas on the human body (including lethality without pain), so his claims that the condemned are being treated like guinea pigs don’t hold up. Together, these distinguish NA from previous methods and invite a new public perspective.

Pro drops the poll results against the firing squad. Pro really wants you to believe that a positive trend will reverse these; however, he’s not waiting several years before implementing this. He wants it now. Now, the numbers are strongly against FS. Now, a significant majority view it as cruel and unusual. He provides no reason why his setup will alter public perception, so he is guaranteed to implement his capital punishment in a US that is openly hostile to it. That practically guarantees a tidal wave of backlash, striking down his method.

II. Net Benefits
1. Cruelty to the condemned

We both agree that a death that involves the least possible cruelty is one to be favored. What makes a method crueler?

Pro in no way discusses how lengthening an NA execution is harmful beyond small increases to cost (more gas, a new mask) and dread. Dread brought on by the condemned themselves is not imposed cruelty. Pro doesn’t provide any reasoning for why any pain they cause themselves reflects badly on the method. In the end, it’s their choice that is being acted upon. The government is not responsible for that choice.

What makes the best method is one that is, essentially, botch-proof. No matter how perfect a method may seem, different types of implementation and mistakes will lead to botches. Things will go wrong. I have provided evidence that botches exist for FS and, much as Pro’s methods may reduce their number, it is still fallible. I accept that NA can be botched. So, what do those botches look like for our two cases?

We begin with NA. At worst, a mask is damaged and a new nitrogen canister must be acquired. Both are low cost and minor setbacks. Self-inflicted pain that results is, again, both non-unique and not relevant to this debate. Pro’s argument that incentives to self-harm are unique to NA is also false: FS incentivizes moving out of the lines of sight, and the condemned may dislocate joints or abrade themselves against their restraints to do. These do not expose cruelty in these methods because they are not impositions. This is what Pro misunderstands about my dread argument. The condemned may dread their deaths with both NA and FS, but Pro’s case uniquely generate anticipations for terrible pain post-shooting. Setting aside the question of whether those gunshot wounds cause pain (for now), anticipation of pain exists solely in Pro’s case. As such, Pro’s claim that pain won’t be felt solely because of the neurological chemicals pumped into the body is objectively wrong: the anticipation of expected pain is worse than pain.

Onto FS botches. Historical evidence shows that botches involve more than 30 seconds of bleeding out slowly, and this is only among executions. Pro points to the many Americans who use guns for suicide, asking if he can use it in his data. Yes, please. What’s the botch rate on those? 17.5%.[24] That’s a massive botch rate and emphasizes that the length of time one suffers after being shot can be excruciatingly long, well beyond the period where brain chemistry can dull the pain.
Even if we confine it to the shorter time, though, Pro’s case is designed to inflict physical harm. That can and will cause pain. Pro’s claims regarding stress-based pain reduction are just as flawed as his adrenaline claims. Stress-induced analgesia is limited by “individual sensitivity… [which] can vary greatly and that sensitivity is coupled to… opioid sensitivity and startle response… [and] influenced by age, gender, and prior experience to stressful, painful, or other environmental stimuli.”[25] Since it’s largely based on surprise and distraction (hence “startle response”), stress, like adrenaline, has little to no role in death row inmates who know they are about to be killed. As such, Pro’s case directly inflicts both injury and pain, regardless of time frame.

2. Collateral cruelty

This issue does not require botching to be meaningful. So long as there is collateral harm caused by implementation of our methods, it factors into this equation. Do FS or NA harm those who are involved beyond the condemned?

a) Executioners

Pro’s case relies on the effectiveness of the blank as a form of absolution. However, as I’ve already pointed out, a blank is all his case actually requires, and a blank has no recoil. This means every shooter will know their contribution. That’s 4 people, compared with 1 in my case (you don’t need more to affix a mask and pipe in nitrogen), who will have knowingly contributed to the death of the condemned. Even if we assume recoil was built in, Pro doesn’t provide any evidence that this reduces resulting psychological trauma. PTSD is still far more prevalent in Pro’s case, regardless of whether we assume some minor ameliorating effect.

b) Physicians

Pro argues that The National Practitioner Data Bank could remove medical licenses. He’s wrong – it’s a data bank, which theoretically can lead medical staff, societies and licensing boards to act against specific physicians, but cannot act itself. Pro provides no provides no examples of this occurring at any point in US history. That’s probably because it never has.[22] And his own source [11] from R4 explains why: “Medical licensing boards ordinarily address illegal activities of physicians and complaints relating to patient care... Executions are legal; therefore, in states that require the presence of physicians at executions, licensing boards—established by state law and quasi-legal—are unlikely to take action against the licenses of physicians who participate.” Pro’s argument also relies on medical professionals disclosing their participation. Again, Pro’s source shows that few states disclose the names of these physicians, and those that do protect them against reprisals.

c) Staff

Let’s get this out of the way first: nitrogen leakage into the environment is not dangerous. 78% of our atmosphere is nitrogen.[26] A single tank leaking into the environment does not displace enough oxygen to cause hypoxia, despite Pro’s unwarranted claims to the contrary.

In a respect, Pro is correct that PTSD results among those seeing corpses, regardless of gore. However, Pro’s argument goes beyond that. He argues that the blood and gore generated by FS will not engender worse symptoms. The big problem with this response is that Pro concedes that stress disorders like this would be worsened by working with brutalized corpses. That’s not surprising considering there is substantial research supporting the link between exposure to traumatic death and PTSD.[27] Pro claims that these are not gory deaths, though this flies in the face of Pro’s other arguments. He at once wants to claim that these guns will utterly destroy lungs, major arteries, veins and the heart itself, and yet they won’t be particularly bloody or gruesome. And that’s if there is no botching.

Even if we can assume that everyone viewing these executions is completely protected from viewing the resulting gore, the effects on the prison staff and clean-up crews cannot be prevented.


Both of our cases have shown benefits over the status quo. Pro wants you to believe that the uncertainties damn my case, but it’s the certainties that damn his. We know that the public is opposed to FS and that none of the changes he’s making will alter that perspective, leading to legislative action against it. We know that FS, by design, inflicts both pain and injury, and has a substantial chance of botching, causing egregious pain and injury. We know that FS is psychologically traumatizes other, non-guilty parties more than methods that don’t result in a gory death. None of these are true of NA. Hence, vote Con.