One Gun Policy Idea We Can Agree On: Magazine Regulation

Gun policy change in America seems to have come to a fork in the road: on the one hand, the forces favoring stronger gun laws have become more numerous, more vocal, and arguably more successful. On the other hand, the infusion of new, very conservative judicial appointments coming from the Trump administration who seem to embrace unadorned fealty to a broad reading of the Second Amendment (including two new conservative Supreme Court justices) suggests that the courts are poised to view gun laws with greater skepticism.

So where does that leave the country on this vexing issue? As Yogi Berra once said, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Here’s one suggestion for taking the fork, so to speak, on the gun issue: restricting ammunition magazines—specifically, what are called large capacity magazines (LCMs), meaning those that hold more than ten rounds.

Mounting research supports the conclusion that the ability to fire numerous rounds without reloading is both increasingly appealing to mass shooters, and is a major source of injury and death in gun crime more generally. For example, LCMs have been used in more than half of all mass shootings. In the last ten years, mass shootings that involved LCMs resulted in 155% more people shot and 47% more deaths than when the perpetrators did not use LCMs. Among all gun crimes since 2004, LCM use has increased steadily, such that they now are used in over 40 percent of all serious violence incidents.

Restrictions on magazines are by no means unprecedented, or even new. LCMs were restricted at the federal level in the 1994 assault weapons ban, a limit that existed until 2004, when the law lapsed. Today, nine states plus D.C. have LCM limits. Interestingly, the ability to fire weapons without reloading was widely restricted decades ago: from 1927-1934, at least 18 states restricted weapons that could fire more than a specified number of rounds without reloading (ranging from more than a single round to 18 rounds, depending on the state).

And let’s be clear: an ammo magazine is an accessory, not a gun. LCM restrictions do not prevent firearms from operating—only from having a prolific firing capability. And what is the argument against such restrictions? Only one: some gun enthusiasts enjoy firing numerous rounds at a firing range as a form of entertainment or stress relief. In other words, there is no compelling argument for unfettered civilian access to LCMs. Here, surely, is a policy idea that will save lives, not impinge on gun rights, even as viewed more expansively by some, and that would be welcomed by most Americans.