In Jan. 17, 1989, a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle fired more than 100 rounds at an elementary school in Stockton, Calif., killing five children and wounding 30 people. President George H.W. Bush responded by stopping the import of dozens of models of semi-automatic rifles and proposing a ban on the sale of magazines holding more than 15 rounds. The latter failed. But in 1994, Congress approved a limit of 10 rounds on magazine capacity.
Today, the nation is contemplating a massacre with a higher death toll. On Oct. 1, a gunman in a high-rise Las Vegas hotel killed more than 50 people and wounded hundreds. He too had semi-automatic rifles — but he also used bump stocks, which enabled his guns to fire nearly as rapidly as a machine gun.
Even Republicans in Congress have indicated a willingness to consider the obvious response: a ban on the sale and possession of these devices, which serve no purpose except to make a legal weapon function like an illegal one. While lawmakers are gathering information on that option, they should bring back a limit on the size of magazines.
There has always been a sound reason to outlaw high-capacity magazines. They appeal to mass shooters because they make it possible to unleash dozens of rounds without pausing to reload. They were used in a number of horrendous attacks, including those at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School.
High-capacity magazines, however, are even more helpful to a shooter with bump stock — which is typically used with a magazine holding 60 or 100 rounds. Thus equipped, a shooter can spray a crowd with up to 100 deadly bullets in a matter of seconds. With a magazine holding just 10 or 15, he would have to reload repeatedly to go through that much ammo.
A limit on the size of magazines is no cure-all. A determined, competent shooter using a semi-automatic weapon can eject and replace a round magazine in seconds. But anything that slows his rate of fire even marginally may save lives by giving potential targets more time to escape or overcome him. The man who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 was subdued after he stopped to reload his pistol, which had a 33-round magazine.
A capacity limit would not put a serious burden on gun owners. Large magazines are used mostly in recreational target shooting, but it’s a tiny inconvenience to change out magazines every 15 rounds. Remember, gun owners have managed under a 10-round restriction before. And eight states already have laws prohibiting large magazines.
Nor would a limit have a meaningful effect on people who have guns for self-defense. Anyone who thinks 10 or 15 rounds may not suffice can keep an extra magazine at hand.
High-capacity magazines have long been a boon to would-be killers, but the invention of the bump stock greatly magnifies the lethal threat. The prospect of another Las Vegas is the best argument yet for Congress to take them off the market.
— Chicago Tribune