The Right Opinion

Magazine Limits Could Endanger Victims Instead of Saving Them

By Jacob Sullum · Jan. 16, 2013

A limit on magazine capacity is emerging as a leading contender for the something that supposedly must be done in response to last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A ban on “large-capacity ammunition feeding devices” is one of the new gun restrictions approved by the New York legislature this week and one of the measures President Obama wants Congress to enact.

The rationale for such limits is that mass murderers need “large-capacity” magazines, while law-abiding citizens don't. Both premises are questionable, and so is the notion that politicians should be the arbiters of necessity under the Second Amendment.

The problem with letting legislators decide what gun owners need is immediately apparent when we ask what qualifies as a “large-capacity” magazine. Under current New York law and under the federal limit that expired in 2004 (which Obama wants Congress to reinstate), more than 10 rounds is “large.” This week, the New York legislature redefined “large” as more than seven rounds.

Why? Because seven is less than 10. Duh. Or, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it last week, “Nobody needs 10 bullets to kill a deer.”

That might count as an argument if the right to keep and bear arms were all about killing deer. But as the Supreme Court has recognized, the Second Amendment is also about defense against individual aggressors, foreign invaders and tyrannical government.

Toward those ends, the Court said, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons “in common use for lawful purposes,” which clearly include guns capable of firing more than 10 rounds (and certainly more than seven) without reloading. The Glock 17, one of the most popular handguns in America, comes with a 17-round magazine. One of the most popular rifles, the AR-15 (a style made by several manufacturers), comes with a 30-round magazine.

Measured by what people actually buy and use, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are hardly outliers. In fact, there are tens (if not hundreds) of millions already in circulation, which is one reason new limits cannot reasonably be expected to have much of an impact on people determined to commit mass murder.

Another reason is that changing magazines takes one to three seconds, which will rarely make a difference in assaults on unarmed people. The gunman in Connecticut, for example, reportedly fired about 150 rounds, so he must have switched his 30-round magazines at least four times; he stopped only because police were closing in, which prompted him to kill himself.

Magazine size is more likely to matter in confrontations with people who are armed, which is why it is dangerously presumptuous for the government to declare that no one needs to fire more than X number of rounds.

As self-defense experts such as firearms instructor Massad Ayoob point out, there are various scenarios, including riots, home invasions and public attacks by multiple aggressors, in which a so-called large-capacity magazine can make a crucial difference, especially when you recognize that people firing weapons under pressure do not always hit their targets and that assailants are not always stopped by a single round.

Living in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots, I was glad that shopkeepers in Koreatown had “large-capacity” magazines to defend themselves and their property against rampaging mobs. I bet they were, too.

In fact, argues gun historian Clayton Cramer, those magazines may have saved rioters' lives as well, since they allowed business owners to fire warning shots instead of shooting to injure or kill.

If magazines holding more than 10 rounds are not useful for self-defense and defense of others, shouldn't the same limit be imposed on police officers and bodyguards (including the Secret Service agents who protect the president)? And if the additional rounds do provide more protection against armed assailants, it hardly makes sense to cite the threat of such attacks as a reason to deny law-abiding citizens that extra measure of safety.



M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Outstanding! Finally someone who seems to have an understanding of how guns work. Why are we allowing people who know little about guns - to make laws restricting them, their accessories, and how they can be used.

If the left wants to limit guns to the Mlitia, the they must limit free speech to the Press. If the government can restrict the number,type and use of guns, then we must also limit the type, number and use of words. And let's register free speech " speakers" as well. The problem is that once those things occur, liberty is lost and we will be subjected to the tyranny, genocide, and social cleansing of Hitler, Mao, PolPot, Stalin et al.

This is all about control, not about guns.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:45 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA replied:

Rick: The Left believes that free speech entitles one to own and use newspapers, transmitters, computers, radio, TV, the Internet and word processing but self-defense only justifies using your bare hands.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:27 AM

Giles Chavous in Cumming, GA replied:

I have an Uberti replica lever action 1860 Henry rifle with a fixed tubular magazine capacity of 13 rounds. Only used for competitive shooting, not what anyone would realistically consider a deer or self defense weapon. However, it seems that it would be considered an assault weapon. Laws that are made by the ignorant are patently dangerous

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:27 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

Dr Timms has it absolutely right. If the left can determine the type of guns and magazines we can own then it will be just a short step to banning individuals from owning any type of gun. The average liberal has probably never owned a gun, ever fired one, and has no clue about why anyone would want one. They have convinced themselves that all that is needed is police protection and no individual needs a gun for that reason. That time between when the police are alerted and the time they arrive is crucial if your home is being invaded. If you have no protection you and your family are at the mercy of the invaders. Liberal's can't seem to grasp the idea that we have the right to protect our lives and our property.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 6:23 AM

rab in jo,mo replied:

True, and there may also come a time when the police aren't your friends. I'd bet there were a lot of Germans that regretted allowing themselves to be disarmed when the Gestapo came knocking on the door.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA replied:

Germans and a lot of other people:

In the 20th Century:

Governments murdered four times as many civilians as were killed in all the international and domestic wars combined.

Governments murdered millions more people than were killed by common criminals.

How could governments kill so many people? The governments had the power - and the people, the victims, were unable to resist. The victims were unarmed.

The Genocide Chart:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:23 AM

Ct-Tom in NC replied:

Right, Sarge. I do remember a time, though, when the libs were not too crazy about police, either. (It wasn't conservatives who labeled them "pigs.") And who recommends reductions in police and fire protection every time a tow budget comes up short?

I believe that they are dedicated to the proposition that we do not need protection. After all, they are more than happy to provide for all our needs, once we relinquish all of those silly freedoms dreamed up by those old dead white men all those years ago.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:23 AM

wjm in Colorado replied:

Why do the police even have guns, they are more likely to just use chalk to outline the victims. Chicago has a lot of police, and the highest murder rate in the nation,maybe even in the world, the place is more dangerous than our current war zones. And the most restrictive gun laws.....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

Why do the morons expect a 5'-2" 110 lbs women to fight off an attacker with her bare hands, but the 6'-2" 250 lbs police investigating the crime are armed? I must have missed or slept during logic class when this was discussed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA replied:

"Why do the morons expect a 5'-2" 110 lbs women to fight off an attacker .."

Because the morons think a woman raped and strangled is morally superior to a woman with a smoking gun and a dead rapist at her feet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:55 PM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY replied:

Present a liberal with the following scenario and watch the dead fish eyed stare you get.
Your home is invaded. You have a cell phone in one hand, and a firearm in the other. You only have about a minute before intruder reaches where you have retreated to, the cops are at best 5 minutes away. Do you dial, or do you aim?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

Liberal Logic on Magazine Capacity: Police operate with backup within groups, which is why they need larger capacity pistol magazines than do "civilians" who must face criminals alone and therefore need less ammunition.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:18 AM

rab in jo,mo said:


Excellent article. Ironic that you mention the store owners in Koreatown in '92. I remember a few initial reports (including video) of them defending their properties, then suddenly it was no longer included in any coverage. We aren't supposed to remember what they did as it sets a dangerous (to the liberals) precedent.

In a similar manner, the perpetrator of evil acts in Newtown was initially reported to have used a pair of handguns to commit his crimes - the long gun was reportedly still in his vehicle. Next thing we know, we're being told it was an evil Bushmaster that was used to kill the kids. So which was it? Even a 6-year old can tell the difference between a pistol and a rifle. No one's questioning why the initial reports differ so much from the current story. Something smells in Denmark, and I don't think it's fish!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

Doktor Riktor Von Zhades in Western KY said:

A magazine capacity of 7 vs 10. Most people will just learn to load faster, and empty twice. Just saying. Truly the Liberal mind IS a thing to waste.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Sammy in Kansas said:

When they come to get my magazines that hold more than ten rounds, I will as a courtesy to them, empty them first.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

We had a dark summer in NYC in 1992-the Crown heights riots were going on. Lemerick Nelson ended up stabbing Yankel Rosenbaum to death, while blacks were chanting "kill the jews" after poor Gavin Cato 7y.o., was mowed down by a hebrew limo driver. Nelson was locked up, for a time, and he relocated to Atlanta, where he stabbed another person.What a POS he is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Leaping Spark in Valrico, FL said:

Our Communist President must take our guns to enable the take over of our country. All this crap about clips and assault weapons etc is just lip service to hide their real agenda, the creation of a third world communist utopia ruled by our current corrupter in chief.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 7:27 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Pay attention to the "scapegoat". Who do the press now demonize? The rich, white conservative, 1%, Tea party, religious, republican, greedy SOB's that don't pay their fair share. When Obama has us limted to muzzle loaders and slingshots, who do think "they" will be coming for. Wake up folks. Watch "Innocents Betrayed" if you can stand the horror of tyrants abusing unarmed masses. History Will repeat itself... Here:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 10:45 PM

Jim in Western NC said:

Well-reasoned! Of course, that doesn't matter if the progressive's intent is to weaken the protections provided by the Second Amendment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:24 PM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland said:

Is it any surprise that the NY Governor wants to ban magazines holding more than 7 rounds of ammunition? It was NYC that recently banned sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. There must be something in the water up there!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:40 PM