Despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing a controversial drug to be used for lethal injections in Oklahoma, death-penalty states are finding it harder to carry out executions as they struggle to obtain and properly use limited supplies of ever-changing combinations of suitable drugs.Prison officials in Texas and Virginia have improvised a short-term solution by trading drugs used in lethal injections.
Ohio and Nebraska have sought to buy a drug no longer available in the United States from overseas only to be told by the Food and Drug Administration that importing the drug is illegal. Executions in Mississippi have been postponed for months over a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s three-drug protocol. The delay will stretch into next year, with a trial scheduled in July 2016.And in Montana on Tuesday, a judge blocked the state from carrying out executions, ruling that one of the two drugs it planned to use did not comply with the state law governing lethal injections. The only way Montana can resume executions with that drug, the judge said, is by having the State Legislature modify the law.
As it prepares to resume executions in 2016, Ohio’s search for new drugs earned it a warning from the federal authorities, after prison officials explored buying a sedative, sodium thiopental, from overseas. In June, a Food and Drug Administration official told the state in a letter that “there is no F.D.A.-approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States.”Ohio officials declined to answer questions about the letter. JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the agency “continues to seek all legal means to obtain the drugs necessary to carry out court-ordered executions.”
The scramble for drugs has caused some states to embrace or consider more unusual or more antiquated ways of putting inmates to death.In 2014, Tennessee authorized prison officials to use the electric chair if lethal-injection drugs were unavailable. Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah signed a bill into law in March approving firing squads when drugs cannot be obtained. In April, Oklahoma made nitrogen gas its new backup method. In Louisiana, where executions have been postponed after a federal lawsuit over its lethal-injection system, prison officials recommended in a report in February that nitrogen gas be adopted as an alternative method, through the use of a mask or other device but not a gas chamber.
In the shooting last week in Oregon, in which Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people, all 14 of the guns available to him — either used in the attack or left at home — were bought legally by him or by a relative from a licensed dealer.“This is the sort of killing you’re least likely to prevent with gun control laws, partly because the killers are so motivated,” said Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University.
In a law that will take effect in January (in California), family members or the police will be able to ask a judge for a temporary gun violence restraining order if they see someone in an ominous emotional downward spiral, threatening violence and perhaps collecting weapons.Disputes over civil liberties appear likely. But with legal procedures modeled on restraining orders for domestic violence, the law says, officials could obtain a search warrant and seize the person’s guns for a brief period, pending evaluation.The idea builds on “threat assessment” efforts by some schools and police departments, which focus on people seen as threatening. Support for the idea grew after a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., last year.Before the rampage, the family of the gunman, Elliot O. Rodger, feared that he was becoming dangerous and even notified law enforcement. Officers visited him but saw no evidence of mental illness that would warrant taking action. They did not check his gun purchase records or search his home.“If they had searched, they’d have found not only three guns but 40 loaded magazines,” said Dr. Wintemute of the University of California, Davis. “That would have just screamed, ‘Trouble coming!’ ” he said.
UPDATE: So on Friday 10/9, the same day the president met with the victim's families from the Roseburg, Oregon massacre, there were two more campus shootings in Arizona and Texas, killing 2 and wounding 4. Texas, incidentally, recently passed an "open-carry" law allowing guns on college campuses. Because the only way to stop a bad student with a gun is a good student with a gun. Or a professor. Or something.
Also, major props to these knuckle-draggers for protesting the president's visit to Oregon, a non-public event with "no politics, no speech, just shared grief," while armed. Armed and carrying priceless, well-written signs like "go back to kennya" and "Obama is rong."