Georges Blind, a Member of the French Resistance, Smiling at a German Firing Squad. October 1944

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>In some cases one or more members of the firing squad may be issued a weapon containing a blank cartridge instead of one housing a live round. No member of the firing squad is told beforehand if he is using live ammunition. This is believed to reinforce the sense of diffusion of responsibility among the firing squad members, making the execution process more reliable. It also allows each member of the firing squad to believe afterward that he did not personally fire a fatal shot—for this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the “conscience round”.

>However, it was a different story in the First World War. Private W. A. Quinton of 2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment had the unfortunate experience of being a member of a firing squad in October 1915. He recalled how he and eleven colleagues were relieved of any live ammunition and their own rifles, before being issued with replacement weapons. The firing squad was then given a short speech by an officer before they fired a volley at the condemned man. But “I had the satisfaction of knowing that as soon as I fired, the absence of any recoil, [indicated] that I had merely fired a blank cartridge”.

>In more recent times, such as in the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah in the United States in 2010, a rifleman may be given a “dummy” cartridge containing wax instead of a bullet, which provides a more realistic recoil.

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