In Virginia, The Post found that the rate at which police recovered firearms with high-capacity magazines — mostly handguns and, to a smaller extent, rifles — began to drop around 1998, four years into the ban. It hit a low of 9 percent of the total number of guns recovered the year the ban expired, 2004.
The next year, the rate began to climb and continued to rise in subsequent years, reaching 20 percent in 2010, according to the analysis of a little-known Virginia database of guns recovered by police. In the period The Post studied, police in Virginia recovered more than 100,000 firearms, more than 14,000 of which had high-capacity magazines.
Researchers see impact
To some researchers, the snapshot in Virginia suggests that the federal ban may have started to curb the widespread availability of the larger magazines.
“I was skeptical that the ban would be effective, and I was wrong,” said Garen Wintemute, head of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine. The database analysis offers “about as clear an example as we could ask for of evidence that the ban was working.”
The analysis is based on an examination of the Criminal Firearms Clearinghouse, a database obtained from state police under Virginia’s public information law. The data, which were first studied by The Post in 2011, offer a rare glimpse into the size of the magazines of guns seized during criminal investigations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which traces guns and regulates the industry, tracks details about the guns seized after crimes but not the magazine size.
The initial Post analysis was prompted by a mass shooting in Tucson. Jared Lee Loughner — armed with a legally purchased 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a 33-round magazine — opened fire outside a grocery store, killing six people and wounding 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
In the following two years, a succession of mass shootings has occurred, including several in which the gunmen reportedly had high-capacity magazines.
At the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., the gunman was reported to have been armed with two handguns, an AR-15 rifle and numerous 30-round magazines. He killed himself at the scene. The guns were legally purchased by his mother.