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Florida firing squads? What has death penalty supporters all riled up?

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A firing squad, which most Americans associate with the nation’s frontier past, is the antithesis of lethal injection, which is considered a more clinical procedure and therefore less fraught with emotional baggage.

Just three people have died by a firing squad since 1976, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

In cases like Drake’s, extreme remarks about the death penalty are merely “red meat for a political conversation,” says Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, who specializes in death penalty sentencing issues.

“That is part of the broader story of the death penalty. It is much more about rhetoric than reality,” Mr. Berman says.

What is real, meanwhile, is that there are plenty of reasons for supporters of the death penalty to feel insecure. Even with the death penalty on the books in 34 states, the number of executions carried out each year has dropped 56 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the number of new death sentences meted out has fallen 50 percent in that same period.

Similarly, fewer states are carrying out executions despite having crowded death rows, suggesting that the political will is fading due to a combination of public opposition, heightened DNA testing, and costly legal challenges. For example, 45 percent of all executions in 2010 took place in one state: Texas. Only one other state came close, Ohio, with 22 percent.

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