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Mass shootings: Limiting magazine
capacity saves lives and doesn't infringe on gun rights.
Large-capacity magazines hardly seem
essential for self-defense, and our research shows they increase fatalities.
We should have a national sales ban.
Published 5:00 a.m. ET Aug 19, 2020 Updated 9:12 a.m. ET Aug 19, 2020
Days following the anniversary of one of the nation's worst weekends of
senseless bloodshed, the killing of 32 victims in mass shootings in El Paso,
Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
overturned a California ban of the very type of large-capacity magazine that
facilitated the two massacres. Approved in 2016 by a healthy voter majority,
Proposition 63 outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
"California's near-categorical ban of (large-capacity magazines) strikes
at the core of the Second Amendment the right to armed self-defense, Judge
Kenneth Lee wrote for the court majority. "
However, it is hard to
imagine a situation in which some law-abiding gun owner would need to shoot
off dozens of rounds in defense of self or others. It is a stretch to
conceive of a home invasion by a horde of armed intruders, so many that a
rapid-fire response would be required to ward off the threat.
Limiting magazine capacity saves lives
The 2008 U.S.
Supreme Court ruling in Heller clearly affirmed an individual's Second
Amendment right to gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense, but not in
an absolute sense. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not
unlimited, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. "It is not a right
to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for
In that light, Judge Lee's contention that
large-capacity magazines are essential for self-defense hardly seems
In a paper soon to appear in the journal Law and Human Behavior, Michael
Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health and several
colleagues (including me) examined the effect of eight specific types of
state-level gun laws on the incidence and severity of mass public shootings
from 1976 through 2018, each claiming the lives of at least four victims.
While laws mandating permits for all retail and private gun sales
significantly lowered the odds of a state experiencing a mass public
shooting, limiting the capacity of magazines was the only measure to reduce
significantly the number of fatalities when such incidents do occur. It is
of little surprise that all eight shootings with 20 or more fatalities
involved large-capacity magazines.Influence ebbing:The
National Rifle Association faces its worst nightmare accountability
I have insisted on many occasions that most firearm laws,
although worthwhile in combating the tens of thousands of shootings every
year in this country, do little to repel the most extreme acts namely, mass
killings the kinds of episodes that provide fodder for gun control
arguments. Indeed, mass killers are very determined, dead set on
destruction, and typically find a way to acquire the guns and ammunition
needed to execute their vengeful designs.
One week before the El Paso
and Dayton massacres, a gunman killed three and wounded 17 at California's
annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, before committing suicide. Despite the state
ban, the assailant's rifle was equipped with a 75-round drum magazine, and
he carried five extra 40-round magazines just in case.
In the wake of large-scale mass shootings, the
rallying cry from gun control advocates often focuses on military-style
firearms commonly characterized as assault weapons. Despite their menacing
look, what makes these firearms particularly deadly is the attachment
enabling an assailant to fire off round after round without pausing to
reload. Contrary to common perception, most mass shootings do not involve
AR-15-style rifles. Most are perpetrated with semiautomatic handguns, many
of which can accommodate a large-capacity magazine.
The Virginia Tech
gunman managed to kill 32 students and faculty using two handguns
accessorized with magazines capable of holding 10-15 bullets.
if all sales of large-capacity magazines were blocked nationwide, there are
countless already in circulation for anyone determined enough to purchase
one privately. But whatever the magnitude of the impact, a national sales
ban would be the right thing to do symbolically and might eventually shrink
the supply.Dayton mayor on one-year anniversary of mass
Why haven't we done something?
businesses, schools, churches and concert halls having been closed due to
the pandemic, there has not been a large-scale, deadly mass shooting in such
public venues since February. When the nation reopens with crowds
congregating in confined spaces, it is the size of the magazine, not so much
the length of the gun barrel, that will be most perilous.James
Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public
Policy at Northeastern University, a member of USA TODAY's Board of
Contributors and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass
Murder." Follow him on Twitter: @jamesalanfox