Making the case for more bullets, bigger magazines

September 11, 2020


Matthew Hoy

Second Amendment advocates scored wins against California's 20-year ban on standard-capacity magazines (now all too commonly referred to as "large capacity magazines") at both the district and appellate court levels. But with a vote coming up on whether an en banc panel will re-hear the case of Duncan v. Becerrathere are many people who aren't necessarily pro- or anti-2nd Amendment rights who are wondering why we're having this fight.

Why do Second Amendment advocates want to have magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds?

And on the other side: Why is it important to limit civilians to no more than 10 rounds before needing to reload their firearms?

The case for limits on magazine capacity

Gun-control advocates' logic for limiting magazine capacity goes something like this:

  1. According to a number of studies (and these studies are generally rigorous enough that both sides agree on this number), in the typical self-defense scenario where a firearm is discharged just two bullets are fired.
  2. Therefore, you really don't need more than 10 bullets if you're simply defending yourself.
  3. On the other hand, a bad actor bent on mass murder, then limiting magazines to 10 rounds limits the amount of carnage that person can do.
  4. Limiting magazines to 10 rounds also presents more frequent opportunities for potential victims to potentially rush the shooter while he is reloading and end the attack.

Seen this way, allowing people to have 10 rounds in their magazine—and typically one more in the chamber—strikes a pretty reasonable balance between legitimate self-defense needs of citizens and the state's interest in making it difficult for potential mass shooters to wreak havoc.

The weaknesses of the pro-gun control case

Let's start with the simple fact that if someone is truly determined to murder a bunch of people, they are not likely to abide by the laws that limit magazine capacity or any of California's other laws. An article from the Michael Bloomberg-sponsored pro-gun control site The Trace, outlined how the two terrorists in the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., ignored state laws regarding not just magazine capacity, but also assault weapon bans.

On the other hand, the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 dead, was committed solely with 10 round magazines, despite the fact that Florida does not restrict magazine capacity. Why did that shooter not use higher capacity magazines? The answer reportedly is that the bigger magazines didn't fit in his bag.

In neither case did the shooters' pauses to reload appear to offer anyone an opportunity to charge the attacker. The video below may help explain why.

As the sheriff demonstrated, limiting magazine capacity does not necessarily translate into fewer shots fired in a given amount of time, nor does forcing a shooter to reload more often necessarily give a potential victim a window of opportunity to rush the shooter.

So, if you can change magazines rapidly, even in a self-defense situation, then why do you want a magazine with a higher capacity?

Well, a real-life situation described in the opening of Judge Roger Benitez's ruling striking down California's magazine capacity law, gives us one very good reason.

When three armed intruders carrying what look like semi-automatic pistols broke into the home of a single woman at 3:44 a.m., she dialed 911. No answer. Feng Zhu Chen, dressed in pajamas, held a phone in one hand and took up her pistol in the other and began shooting. She fired numerous shots. She had no place to carry an extra magazine and no way to reload because her left hand held the phone with which she was still trying to call 911. After the shooting was over and two of the armed suspects got away and one lay dead, she did get through to the police. The home security camera video is dramatic.

This is a key point, and one that pro-gun control types fail to confront: While a determined and prepared mass shooter can and will carry several magazines, it can be burdensome and unwieldy for your average citizen or concealed carrier to walk around with multiple spare magazines. Again, magazine capacity limitations burden the law-abiding far more than the criminals they aim to thwart.

The case for more bullets

The situation Feng Zhu Chen found herself in may be uncommon, but it is not unheard of. Judge Benitez described several other real-life situations where people used far more than the two rounds that are fired in the "typical" self-defense scenario.

Laws like California's, which limit the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves from the uncommon attack, put the public at a disadvantage against criminals who as a general rule ignore every gun control law prior to committing their crimes.

None of these magazine size limitation laws across the country affect law enforcement, and for good reason.

This officer fired off a total of 14 rounds in order to defend herself from a man wielding a knife. California and other states want to limit civilians to 10.

Why 10? That's an excellent question which no one seems to have an answer to. Colorado several years ago introduced a "large-capacity magazine" ban that prohibits magazines that carry more than 15 rounds. New York several years ago passed a magazine ban that only allowed people to have 7 rounds, despite the fact that 7-round magazines are harder to find than an honest politician.

In case after case, with witness after witness, no one has ever been able to explain why 15, 10, or seven round magazines are just the right number to achieve the state's desired balance between allowing for self-defense and limiting the carnage of a mass shooter. Is there a limit? If the average self-defense situation only results in two shots fired, and the Parkland shooter used 10 round magazines, then maybe 10 rounds is too many. Maybe five is good enough; or three.

The government's 'balancing' is out of whack

The states who have implemented magazine size restrictions universally claim that their interest is finding some way to mitigate the carnage that mass shooters do. The pro-Second Amendment side would encourage law-abiding people to carry firearms and get rid of so-called "gun free zones," which seem to be little more than soft targets for mass shooters.

Both the district court and the appellate court noted that it is an important government interest to stop mass shootings, a "blanket ban on possession [of large capacity magazines] everywhere and for nearly everyone," was not an appropriate "fit" when dealing with a constitutional right.

Despite the seemingly increasing number of mass shootings, they are still miniscule when compared to the number of times each year that firearms are used for self-defense—estimated at somewhere between 500,000 and 3 million times each year. If the government could come up with some sort of scheme to keep large capacity magazines out of the hands of criminals while allowing law-abiding citizens to keep and use them, then it might pass muster.

Of course, these states have tried this with firearms as well, yet criminals always seem to find a way around the law.

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One comment on “Making the case for more bullets, bigger magazines”

  1. […] High-capacity magazines are also a frequent target of gun control advocates, but the Parkland shooter didn't use magazines holding more than 10 rounds apparently because the larger ones wouldn't fit in his bag. California has long had a prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, but such prohibitions did not stop the shooters from using larger magazines in the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., and the gunman who killed six near UC Santa Barbara (three by stabbing), had more than 40 legal, 10-round magazines for his handguns. [For those wondering about the arguments against limiting magazine capacity, please see this detailed defense here.] […]

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