Gun Violence & Magazine Capacity – Part 2
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
So wrote the real Thomas Paine 230+ years ago in “Common Sense” and both sides of the “gun control” debate understand this. The gun control lobby knows it has a small window in which to ride the emotional trauma hoping to pass their long-time, agenda driven restrictions. The law-abiding gun owners and shooting community know that as the emotional temperature lowers, the reasonable middle will understand that repeating gun control measures that have not worked in the path is not a logical step forward.
In the following, I continue to look at how a 30-year-old idea, the 10-round magazine capacity threshold between “acceptable” capacity and “evil” or “high capacity”, still haunts our gun control debate. It is a proof of Paine’s point that a thing “wrong”, if thought about long enough, will take on the “superficial appearance of being right.”
Part One examined magazine capacity limits and how they have little impact on the major causes of gun violence, injury or death. Suicide and accidents are, by necessity, single discharge (shot) events. Domestic or other “known shooters” are typically limited to a single or several shots. Criminals and illegal gun owners will ignore such limits. Thus, magazine capacity limits of 5, 7, 10 or 20 will have NO IMPACT on the potential injury or lethality of such gun-involved events.
Which brings us to the lowest statistical contributor to overall gun violence but undoubtedly the most public, visible and heart rending – the rampage shooter. While small in number, the media and public focus on them, especially when the victims are children. Yet, the odds of any person being impact by such random carnage are lower than nearly every other conventional cause of death or injury imaginable, including being hit by a NYC subway train.
As for rampage shootings, let’s all stipulate that the mere availability of magazines erroneously labeled “high capacity” will not deter a criminally insane psychopath from plotting, preparing for and launching a rampage shooting. To think that availability of magazines of a certain capacity will prevent the acts is beyond reason. But thinking so also ignores that devastating attacks have regularly happening under such laws, sometimes with law-compliant equipment.
This REDUCES the arguments for banning and potential forcibly confiscation of “high capacity” to a SINGLE HOPE: possibly limiting the carnage of some future rampage shooting where such magazine COULD be used.
In Part One, I pointed out that swapping magazines takes less than several seconds and that there is no “magical interval” between magazines when potential victims cowering for their lives can either attack the madman or try to escape. If you doubt this assertion see the videos attached.
Let’s also be clear that the current usage of “high capacity magazine” is semantic deception worthy of a Madison Avenue advertising campaign. The use of “high” allows the innocent reader, with little knowledge of guns nor magazines, to think something like “If 10+ or 7+ is “high” then why can’t gun folks get along with “standard” magazines?” But how valid is this statement and how real is its application to the current 2013 state of affairs.
So, as I ponder how we can make our children and society safer, I can not help but wonder how such an ineffectual “solution” can garner so much support from those who know so little about firearms. I had to go back historically and find the original usage and intent of such a limit.
As best as I can ascertain, the origins of the 10-round threshold can be traced back to California’s Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Control Act of 1989 (LINK). In the mid-1980s, police in many states and big cities were being out-gunned by political and ethnic gangs, drug dealers, biker gangs and were seeking ways of getting the most devastating weapons off the streets. There was talk of laws to further restrict guns but there did not garner enough support from the general public.
That changed in January 1989 following a tragedy similar to Newtown, the murder to five school children on a playground at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton California in January 1989 (over 30 were wounded). The rampage killer, Patrick Purdy, was a drifter who had a long history of family tragedy, criminal activity, drug abuse and mental health issues. Purdy, someone sympathetic to the Aryan Nation white supremacy group, used a Chinese-made variant of the Russian AK-47, both bought legally under the lax California firearms laws of the day. The emotions of that massacre move public opinion enough to pass Roberti-Roos through the California legislature by only a handful of votes.
Contemporaneous accounts from that time show that the Roberti-Roos act was crafted by political staffers of Democratic officials who had little to no knowledge of firearms, shooting, etc. A discussion by a California law enforcement official involved in the crafting recounts that the crafters had little idea of what they wanted to do and how they could do it. He points out that the 10-round limit was intended to apply to rifles like the AK/SKS/AR and machine pistols like the MAC-10 and TEC-9. What is instructive here is not only the firearms they were targeting, but also those that go without being mentioned, even in passing. That is:
NOWHERE IN THE LEGISLATION OR CONTEMPORANEOUS ACCOUNTS OF THAT TIME SUGGEST THAT THE 10-ROUND THRESHOLD WAS INTENDED TO APPLY TO TRADITIONAL SEMI-AUTOMATIC SELF-DEFENSE HANDGUNS.
In the mid-1980s, the predominant self-defense handguns in the hands of the general public were either revolvers (the cowboy gun or ubiquitous police gun from TV and movies between 1950 and 1980) or 1911-style semi-automatic pistols (the ubiquitous sidearm of every military movie commonly referred to as the “Colt 45”). There were others but these two styles were the dominant handguns. In the case of revolvers, they do not have a removable magazine and their capacities are typically 5, 6 or 7 rounds, depending on caliber. For 1911s, their detachable magazines are the “single stack” variety (bullets load and sit in a straight vertical line) and were usually limited to 7, 8 or 9 rounds, depending on caliber and pistol size.
Thus, in the mid-1980s when the California concept of weapon bans were first discussed, the 10-round threshold would seem to be aimed (pun intended) at the rifles and machine pistols of the day.
Hang on shooters, yes, at that time there was the very popular Browning Hi-Power available from WW2 to today and it did hold 13 rounds of 9mm ammo. And yes, it was impacted by the magazine ban though owners of this pistol were allowed to keep their 13-round “pre-ban” magazines. However, nowhere in any of my reading have a found a single reference to this pistol, nor any other pistol capable of holding 10+ rounds in its pistol grip, discussed as a concern in the drafting of Roberti-Roos.
So, it can be reasonably argued that the 10-round threshold was intended to address certain rifles and machine pistols, not conventional handguns, because the impact would be minimal back in the 1980s.
However, in the subsequent three decades, the nature of handguns has changed dramatically with the introduction of the “double stack” magazine in the 1990s and its huge popularity today. Pistols designed with a double stack magazine have handgrips that are a bit wider than the 1911-style to accommodate a wider magazine. In these magazines, the bullets are staggered off-center increasing the available volume resulting in a larger capacity. Depending on caliber and pistol size (height of handgrip), magazine capacities of some of the most popular handguns today can range from 12 to 17 rounds all contained in the pistol’s grip.
Now, if we take the words at face value, anything that is “high capacity” has a capacity that is somehow greater than what we can call “standard capacity”. But, while in the mid-1980s “standard capacity” was 9 rounds or less, in 2013, “standard capacity” is now 17 rounds or less for most pistols.
Further, “standard” features of things like cars are what they come with from the factory without any embellishment. Add a larger engine, beefier wheels, upgraded sound, etc., and you end up with a “high end” configuration, relatively speaking. Applied to firearms – standard capacity magazine are those for which the firearm was designed. That is, the manufacture designed the model to optimally hold a certain number of rounds and sold that firearm with “standard” magazines. Unlike cars, firearms are usually only available with the standard capacity magazines and anything higher than that has to be purchased separately (yes, I am ignoring ban-compliant lower capacity configurations which are “custom” relative to “standard”).
Rifles are a little more complex when it comes to “standard capacity”. Even though the Stockton school playground massacre was the catalyst for Roberti-Roos, the origins of the effort lies in protecting law enforcement in Los Angeles, Compton, Watts, and other cities with serious crime and gun problems. The 10-round magazine capacity limit was aimed at M16 rifles, various submachine guns and machine pistols (“street sweepers”), the preferred street guns of street criminals. This was an anti-crime effort first and foremost. On the national scene, this effort to support law enforcement became the basis for the federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994, authored and introduced by Diane Feinstein.
Today, most modern sporting rifles of the Armalite Rifle style come “standard” with 30-round magazines, except in jurisdictions where there is a 10-round restriction. Available capacities on such rifles are 5, 10, 20 and 30 rounds or more, and the “or more” is where we have trouble as I will discuss in a moment.
However, given that the detachable magazine of an AR or AK style rifle sticks out of the lower receiver, stating that there is a “standard” is more difficult than with pistols where the handgrip length is a natural limiter.
Thus, if “standard capacity” in pistols is now up to 17 rounds and rifles up to 30 rounds, what is a current definition of “high capacity”. In my opinion, the term “high capacity” is now tainted and carries negative connotations, I suggest we instead adopt “extended” and “massive” capacity.
In handguns, if standard capacity is the number of bullets that fit in a magazine contained within the pistols handgrip, then any magazine that sticks out of the bottom of the butt of the pistol grip should be considered an “extended capacity” magazine. This was the type of magazine used by the shooter of Gabby Giffords in Tucson where he used a 33-round magazine that sticks out of the butt of the pistol. Note, while the press and gun control crowd are prone to claim that the Giffords shooter was tackled while changing magazines, his pistol actually jammed which allowed him to be subdued. It was the malfunction, not the magazine change that allowed a long enough lull to take him down.
So “extended capacity” magazines are those intended to increase the capacity of any pistol beyond its design or standard capacity.
For rifles, sub-machine gun-styles and machine pistols, the concept of “extended capacity” is less clear given the design. Instead of splitting hairs with rifles magazine capacities, I would suggest we introduce the concept of “massive capacity” which for rifles we will say is anything over 30 rounds. Over the years, third-party manufacturers have created all manner magazines in excess of 30 rounds. These include magazines of 40, 50, 90 or even 100 rounds, which, IN MY OPINION, have neither a valid sporting nor home-defense purpose. Some gun folks will argue with me about that but I believe we need to draw a line somewhere.
My flight is on final approach and this has gotten too long as it is so it is time wrap up this post.
My base position is and remains that magazine capacity restrictions of 7, 10 or 30 rounds will have little impact on mitigating all forms of gun violence. The only impact that MIGHT be arguable is reducing the potential carnage of a rampage shooting of innocent and unarmed innocents. However, even in this type situation, the speed of magazine changes makes little impact on that potential rate of fire.
Here is my proposition if we must discuss magazine capacity limitations:
- Separate the discussion of handgun capacities from rifle, subgun and machine pistol capacities.
- Center the discussion about handguns maximum capacity to either the design capacity of the pistol (what can fit in the pistol grip) or 18 rounds, whichever is less.
- As noted, rifles, subguns and machine pistols are more complicated and I would argue that 30 rounds are standard but I could see the rationale for a 10-round limit on such rifles. I might not agree with it but could see that if it separates handguns from the others.
About to land at JFK so signing off for now. Reasonable and respectful comments are welcome.