Plausible, or Propaganda? The 'High-Capacity Magazine' Argument

Based on his experience and his analysis of Sandy Hook, Marshall K. Robinson, the forensic scientist for the Bridgeport Police Department who also works at the state police forensic lab in Meriden, believes that banning “high-capacity” magazines would have no effect on gun violence. He testified:

High-capacity magazines have been "banned" before. … It proved nothing and the ban was lifted a few years ago.

Regarding the Gabby Giffords shooting, CNN misrepresented the events in a manner that supported the burgeoning magazine argument:

Authorities said the suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was tackled by two men when he tried to reload his pistol -- while a woman in the crowd, Patricia Maisch, took away the fresh magazine Loughner had dropped.

That version of what happened was widely repeated:

New York Times: “Onlookers tackled and restrained him when he paused to reload.”

NBC News: "'He had emptied the first magazine and was trying to reload when he was tackled,' said one law enforcement official.”

Time: “As Loughner fumbled to load a second clip, one of the 20 victims wounded by gunfire -- a woman whose name has not been released -- approached the assailant and was able to wrest the clip away. Loughner subsequently loaded a second clip, but its spring jammed. He was then tackled by two 'brave, quick-thinking individuals' who pinned him until authorities arrived.”

Associated Press: “[Loughner] was reloading when a woman in the crowd, already wounded, attempted to grab the gun from him. He finally changed the magazine and tried to fire, authorities said, but the gun jammed. Meanwhile, two men from the crowd grabbed him and subdued him, according to officials.”

As with Sandy Hook, however, it seems that “what we learned” is incorrect. The picture of what happened, per those who actually painted it, is subtly but significantly different. An ABC News headline -- “Woman Wrestled Fresh Ammo Clip From Tucson Shooter as He Tried to Reload” -- reflected the magazine argument, yet the reporting did not:

[Patricia] Maisch, 61, effectively disarmed the shooter as several men pounced on him and threw him to ground.

She considered trying to run away, she said, but thought that would make her more of a target, so she laid down on the ground. But then something unexpected happened.

"Then he was next to me on the ground," she said. "The gentleman knocked him down.

"I kneeled over him. He was pulling a magazine [to reload] and I grabbed the magazine and secured that. I think the men got the gun, and I was able to get the magazine," she said.

[Bill] Badger, a 74-year-old retired army colonel living in Tucson, told Pottsville, Pa.'s Republican-Herald: “I turned and saw him running down the line of people on the chairs. He ran between me and the store. Someone hit him with a chair and he flinched a little. That's when I grabbed his left arm. Someone grabbed his right arm and we got him to the ground.”

"The other guy put his knee into the back of his neck and I grabbed him around the throat. We held him until police got there.”

So: according to the actual participants, there was no “pause to reload.”

Whatever combination of gun jamming or reloading happened in Tucson or at Sandy Hook, the time and risk to the shooter of reloading magazines has been absurdly overstated by gun-control advocates and compliant media. In reality, it takes no more than a second or two to replace an empty magazine in a semi-automatic weapon.

These videos of average shooters reloading Glocks clearly demonstrate this.

Dave Kopel points this out in his “Rational Basis of ‘Assault Weapon’ Prohibition”:

In one firearms demonstration, a police shooter emptied a thirty round magazine attached to a banned Colt rifle in 5.9 seconds. The officer then fired a fifteen round magazine attached to an unbanned Glock pistol, changed magazines (2.25 seconds), and then fired another 15 rounds. The same thirty rounds were fired by the Glock in 8.92 seconds.

Using 10-round magazines, requiring two reloads, would add about two seconds, bringing the time to fire 30 rounds to about 11 seconds. But if the shooter had more than one handgun, there would have been no practical difference between rate of fire of the Glock (or any other semi-automatic handgun) and the 30-round rifle.

In addition to the fact that limiting the capacity of magazines would have little if any practical impact on the lethality of mass gun violence, there are many other reasons why such a legal ban would be impractical, bad policy, and arguably unconstitutional.

The millions of magazines currently in existence infer that any new legal restriction would restrict only the law-abiding. This is bad policy, because civilians need high-capacity magazines as much as -- and for the same reasons -- as the police. Legal scholar Randy Barnett pointed this out in a letter to Senator Ted Cruz:

Will some citizens -- such as current or retired members of law enforcement or government officials -- be privileged in the means by which they can protect themselves over others?

If an American citizen who is employed to protect the safety of others, or an active or retired police officer, requires a certain type of weapon, with a certain rate of fire or capacity, to protect him or herself or others, why does not a law abiding citizen of the United States require the same sort of weapon for the same lawful purpose?

A commenter on the Arms and the Law site pointed out:

These restrictions would have marginal effect on a determined would-be mass shooter, since he could prepare in advance by carrying multiple smaller magazines on his belt, in sports vest pockets, etc. and train himself to exchange them quickly. The civilian defender against an attack, on the other hand, is not going to be so attired and likely will have only what ammo is with his defensive firearm when he grabs it. Magazine size restrictions, therefore, would disproportionately hinder defense relative to attack, shifting the balance of power towards the criminal.