Governors and legislatures across the country, however, are seizing the magazine issue. Rhode Island on Tuesday became the latest state to propose restrictions on high-capacity magazines. Connecticut and Maryland have banned the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. California prohibits the sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds and has proposed a ban on their possession. New York and Colorado also have adopted new restrictions.
Firearms experts say restrictions on magazines — detachable ammunition storage and feeding devices — might not prevent a fatal shooting but could prevent it from turning into a massacre.
“They will prevent a killer from becoming a killing machine,” said David Chipman, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official who is a senior policy adviser for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. As a special agent arresting criminals, Chipman said, he routinely carried a firearm with a magazine that was limited to 15 rounds.
Gun rights advocates oppose the limits, saying Americans need the increased firepower to defend themselves against criminals.
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents firearms manufacturers and retailers, said studies show that the now-expired federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines did not reduce crime. He also argues that it would take a shooter less than a second to change standard magazines. The idea that restrictions on large magazines would save lives in shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn., are “speculative at best,” he said.
“What stopped Adam Lanza is that the police arrived and he killed himself,” Keane said, referring to the gunman who killed 20 first-graders and six educators at a Newtown school in December.
Advocates of gun rights have had their victories, too. Several states have passed laws expanding the right to carry weapons.
The large-capacity magazines, which greatly increase a gun’s firepower, were designed for the battlefield to help soldiers spray a huge number of bullets quickly without reloading or being skilled marksmen. Some magazines hold 30 or 60 rounds; others, called “drums,” contain at least 100.
Magazines holding more than 10 rounds were banned from 1994 to 2004, when military assault weapons also were banned. Once the ban expired, sales of the large magazines soared. A Washington Post investigation found that the rate at which police recovered guns in Virginia with high-capacity magazines began to drop around 1998, four years into the ban and hit a low of 9 percent the year the ban expired. The next year, the rate began to climb, and it reached 20 percent in 2010.