Right now there are three proposals for new gun control laws making the rounds on Capitol Hill. They are, in decreasing order of inevitability:
- Universal Background Checks
- Extended Magazine Ban
- A New Assault Weapon Ban
The background check law, which would extend the background check to all private sales as well as those conducted through a licensed dealer. This is supported by 90 percent of virtually everyone, including 80 percent of gun-owning NRA members like myself. Reason: We don’t want to let crazy people and gang bangers into our club. We want the gun-owning public of these United States to be composed entirely of people who have no reason to fear a background check.
Of the other two provisions, the extended magazine ban, which would restrict magazine capacities to 10 rounds or less, and the assault weapons ban, would be ban selected rifles due to their shared features with military rifles, I maintain that only the extended magazine ban is necessary. It solves the real problem, making the assault weapons ban redundant.
The features that mark a rifle as an assault weapon, according to the proposed law, include pistol grips, collapsible stocks, flash hiders, and threaded barrels. None of the features in the proposed ban, nor any outward resemblance to the weapons carried by military personnel, really affect the lethality of the guns.
A lethality of a gun is measured by what is called firepower, and this is an actual thing, composed of three elements:
- Stopping power. This is a factor of the caliber of the round. Military assault rifles actually fire a relatively small-caliber round, the .223. Most hunting rifles fire much more powerful bullets.
- Rate of fire. This is just how many bullets a weapon can put on a target in a certain amount of time.
- Capacity. This is how many rounds a weapon can fire without reloading.
The first element is not regulated under any proposed laws, except for some state bans on .50 caliber rifles. The second is heavily regulated by the automatic weapons provisions in the 1934 and 1968 gun control laws, leaving only magazine capacity as the remaining component of a weapon’s deadliness to be addressed.
Therefore, of all the military-style features available to the general public, the only one that affects the actual lethality of the weapons in question, the thing that really turns semi-automatic rifles into weapons for mass slaughter, is their ability to accept magazines holding 30 rounds or more.
I believe the extended magazine ban is a very good idea. The only reason that 30-round magazines exist is because of the one feature that civilian “assault weapons” don’t share with their military cousins: fully automatic fire. The Army’s M4 carbine can empty its 30-round magazine in less than two seconds with one pull of the trigger.
When you’re a soldier going into battle with a weapon that can fire between 600 and 900 rounds per minutes, it’s a good thing to have as many bullets in your gun as possible.
Because you and I are not usually called upon to provided suppressive fire so our friends and loved ones can cross the streets, the need for these magazines in civilian hands is hard to explain or justify. The shooter in Tuscon, Arizona last year was disarmed when he stopped to reload. If he had only been carrying a normal magazine for the Glock handgun he used, fewer people would have been killed.
It’s worth noting that the only reason there is a 33-round magazine for a Glock pistol, which normally holds about 16 rounds, is because the company made a special version of their handgun for the military, primarily special forces, capable of automatic fire. I would have suggested that before they release such a product, Glock might have considered making its magazines incompatible with its civilian weapon.
But just because we don’t actually need 30-round magazines in our day-to-day life, is that any reason for the government to ban them? I will also assert that a 30-round magazine in the semi-automatic rifles that you and I can own is actually more dangerous than the same magazine in the equivalent, fully automatic military rifle.
If you were to fire an automatic weapon with 30-rounds into a crowd of people… first of all you’re insane. Second, you are unlikely to kill 30 people. Soldiers typically use automatic fire to keep the enemy’s heads down, but not when they want to hit anything. In the case of the lunatic shooting into a group of innocent people, you could expect several rounds to hit the same target. You can also expect some rounds to miss, because automatic fire is not very accurate. Therefore, it is virtually unthinkable that one would kill 30 people with those 30 rounds.
Put the same 30 rounds into a semi-automatic rifle, and suddenly all 30 rounds can be aimed, fired, and potentially lethal to 30 different people. The body count with the semi-automatic weapon is certainly going to be higher. This is to me is real reason that I think that the government should consider the extended magazine ban as a priority.
Does this mean that they should ignore the assault weapons ban completely? No, I believe the Senate should pass it and the extended magazine ban together. The assault weapons ban will never get through the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives, but if it is in the Senate bill, that’s something we can horse-trade away to get the bill we really need to the President’s desk.