For The Record

Illustration by Gordon Schmidt

Earlier this year, Time magazine reported on an unusual renovation. The South Carolina Department of Corrections refurbished its death chamber to facilitate execution by firing squad. The project was prompted by the state’s inability to procure the drugs necessary for carrying out lethal injections.

Will this return to an unquestionably violent execution method be acceptable with the public? Professor Corinna Lain, who has studied the death penalty for years, says it’s a key question. “Maintaining the death penalty today comes with a critical proviso,” she told Time. “Executions cannot offend the sensibilities of the people in whose name they’re being conducted.”

She pointed out that every new method of execution is proposed as a more humane alternative to what existed, even if subsequent experience doesn’t bear this out. South Carolina’s attempt to reach back to a previously disgarded method may accelerate growing unease with the death penalty generally.