Gun Control Facts: Why a "High Capacity" Magazine Ban Would Not Prevent Mass Shootings


Many gun control advocates, including Vice President Joe Biden are arguing for so-called “high-capacity" magazine bans that would restrict the number of bullets held in a single magazine to 10 or fewer.

Biden said last Thursday: “I'm much less concerned, quite frankly, with what you'd call an 'assault weapon' than I am with magazines, and the number of rounds that can be held in a [high-capacity] magazine.” 

The term “high-capacity magazines” is entirely made-up. Emily Miller wrote in the Washington Times that “many firearms come from the factory with devices that feed between 15 to 30 rounds — some hold more, some less depending on their configuration and purpose. Ten is a number chosen out of thin air for reasons of political theater."  

Is the claim that banning these so-called “high capacity” magazines would reduce crime or prevent mass shootings credible? Or would it be more accurate to say (borrowing another Biden quote) "That's a bunch of malarky"?

All of the existing “high capacity” magazines (and there is a nearly endless supply of them) would be grandfathered in under the proposed bills. This is what 60 Minutes discovered during the last assault weapons ban – it isn't really a ban at all. In fact, they found the legislation had virtually no impact on sales and availability of these so-called “high capacity” magazines. We have to ask ourselves “What would be different this time?”

Would so-called “high capacity” magazine bans prevent mass shootings?

It doesn't seem likely such a ban would prevent mass shootings. Consider that one of the Columbine shooters used a Hi-Point 995 carbine rifle, which uses 10 round magazines. He just carried 13 of them. Similarly, the Virginia Tech shooter used handguns and 17 magazines – mostly of 10-round (but also some 15-round). Two of the highest profile mass shootings in recent history and shooters used 10-round magazines; they just brought a lot of them. These magazines would not have been affected at all by the proposed ban. 

How long does it take to change a magazine?

Magazine changes can be very, very rapid, taking just seconds. The Columbine shooters had all the time in the world to reload and reload. They shot in the cafeteria, they entered the library, the went back to the cafeteria, then they went back to the library, and finally the science area. The shooting started at 11:19am and they continued their carnage until they committed suicide at approximately 12:08pm - or nearly an hour.

How many magazine changes could these guys do in an hour?

Homicide victims are usually shot at less than 10 times

A Department of Justice report from 2004 about the previous Federal Assault Weapons Ban – a report which Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the creator of that ban, links on her official website – says that most studies say the information they can obtain shows fewer than 10 shots are used to kill most murder victims, meaning that a 10-round limit isn't likely to have a measurable effect on murder rates. “Specific data ... suggest[s] that relatively few attacks involve more than 10 shots fired.”

The report went on to say: “Gun murder victims are shot two to three times on average according to a number of sources, and a study at a Washington, DC trauma center reported that only 8% of all gunshot victims treated from 1988 through 1990 had five or more wounds,” though they note that number of gunshots may not be representative of the total number of shots fired.  

However, the report also states: “the few available studies on shots fired show that assailants fire less than four shots on average, a number well within the 10-round magazine limit” adding “it is usually unclear how many cases, if any, involved more than 10 shots."

Why should average citizens have more than 10-round magazines?

For one thing, some law enforcement officials support it. The County Sheffifs of Colorado (CSOC) is a joint association of Colorado’s 62 sheriffs. A position paper released by the CSOC states law rnforcement officers carry magazines with more than 10 rounds because sometimes more than 10 is needed to neutralize a threat. For this reason, the CSOC believes law-abidding citizens should also have the right to higher capacity than 10-round magazines, noting that in high-stress situations it may take several rounds to stop an attacker. The CSOC cites instances (like the recent Georgia mother who defended against a home invader) in which, if there had been more than one attacker law enforcement would be attempting to solve a crime (the murder of a family), rather than arresting a criminal stopped during a crime.

The CSOC further calls the proposed 10-round limiit "arbitrary," stating: "When seconds matter, County Sherrifs of Colorado do not want to deny a law-abiding citizen the ability to defend himself and his family based on an arbitrary limit on how bullets should be in one magazine."

What good would a so-called “high capacity” magazine ban do?

Perhaps a better question is “What good would an arbitrary magazine ban do for the public?”. The answer seems to be “not much good at all” - it would not have stopped mass shootings like Virginia Tech or Columbine; it won't impact the majority of homicide victims who are shot at less than 10 times; determined mass shooters can – and have – just carried more magazines anyway. And it may end up doing more harm than good if law-abiding people aren't able to effectively defend themselves in their own homes. As one of my previous articles pointed out, facing multiple attackers is not an unusual occurrence, but rather happens fairly often.