Execution by firing squadExecution by firing squad has been used for capital punishment especially in times of war for spies. It is often considered a particularly honorable method of execution, and as such is often not used for war criminals who are hanged. It is the only method of execution by gunshot as in some places (notably in the People's Republic of China).
A firing squad is a group of people (usually soldiers) who are ordered to shoot at the condemned criminal simultaneously. No single one of them can save the criminal's life by not firing, reducing any moral incentive not to shoot.
In some cases, one of the shooters is given a gun containing a blank cartridge instead of one with a bullet, without telling any of them who got it. There are two theories supporting this practice. First, each can hope beforehand that he will not be one who contributes to the killing. This is believed to reduce flinching and to make the execution proceed more reliably. Second, it allows each of the soldiers a chance to believe that he did not personally fire a fatal shot. While an experienced marksman can tell the difference between a blank and a live cartridge based on the recoil (the blank will have much lower recoil), there is a significant psychological incentive not to pay attention and, over time, to remember the recoil as soft.
Capital punishment was suspended in the USA between 1967 and 1976. It was "re-launched" by the execution of Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977 at Draper State Prison, Utah by a five-man firing squad. The executioners were equipped with 30-30 rifles, one loaded with a blank, and they fired at a seated and hooded Gilmore from about 6 m away, aiming at the chest. In Gilmore's execution, he had sought to speed up the process and deliberately requested a firing squad. The time from his arrest to execution was barely six months.
Since Gilmore's death, the only other executions by firing squad in the United States have been in Utah. The method is legal only in Utah, Idaho, and Oklahoma. In Utah, up until 1980, if the condemned refused to choose a method then the firing squad was mandated. Thirty-nine men have been executed in this manner in Utah. Many have suggested that its use in Utah is related to the Mormon concept of blood atonement. Including executions related to the Civil War, it is estimated that 350 men have been judicially shot in the English speaking parts of North America since 1600.