SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) offered a trenchant comment the other day about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, which was carried out by Adam Lanza with a semiautomatic assault weapon that reloaded bullets in rapid succession from a single ammunition magazine. Twenty children and six adults were killed in a deadly few minutes of fire. “We do know that historically in these instances, amateurs have trouble switching magazines,” the senator said, according to the New York Times. “I believe, and many of the parents there believe, that if Lanza had to switch cartridges nine times versus two times there would likely still be little boys and girls alive in Newtown today.”
The same might also be said for other mass shootings such as the one that wounded former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson and the one at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. These semiautomatic assault weapons are primarily versions of guns created for soldiers in war zones and have no place in civilian hands. The high-capacity ammunition magazine is functionally the most important feature of semiautomatic assault weapons, including some assault pistols, allowing a shooter to rapidly fire up to 30 times without reloading. If Congress decides to legislate a limit on such magazines, say, 10 bullets, it could save lives.
The 10-round limit was included in the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Taking stock of that law, a report for the National Institute of Justice noted that studies have shown that attacks with semiautomatic weapons “result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms.” There is already a huge stock of these weapons and ammunition clips in civilian hands, but Congress could at least staunch the manufacture and purchase of new ones.
A limit on high-capacity magazines draws more support in recent public opinion polls than does a ban on assault weapons. Senators who have resisted gun control legislation out of concern for political fallout have been hinting that they may support limits on ammunition clips. One of them, Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), has stated that, despite his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, he is ready to depart from the status quo in response to Sandy Hook. The senator could do so by speaking up for a limit on large-capacity ammunition clips.
No one who owns guns for hunting, target practice or personal self-defense needs to have a 30-bullet magazine, as Vice President Biden rather inartfully stated in an online chat last week.
Mr. Biden said that civilians don’t need a semiautomatic assault rifle of the AR-15 type — like that used by Lanza — to protect themselves. “It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself,” the vice president declared. “Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.”
We’re not offering any such shopping tips, but we do think that Congress should act for the whole nation and put these high-capacity clips beyond reach.