It was Rahm Emanuel who once advised “Never waste a crisis.” Anti-gun senators Charles Schumer (d. New York), Frank Lautenberg (d. New Jersey), and Diane Feinstein (d. California) have taken this advice to a more shameful dimension: “Never waste a tragedy.” In the aftermath of the Colorado movie theater massacre perpetrated by a crazed—possibly insane—man who used an AR-15 rifle with a high-capacity 100-round magazine in the attack, these perennial enemies of firearms freedom have swiftly moved to score political capital with SA 2575, which would ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Schumer attached this amendment to S 3414, the Cyber Security Bill. It would impose a ten-year prison sentence on anyone found in possession of a prohibited magazine.
As hunters and sportsmen we should join with recreational target and competitive shooters as well as those who own firearms for self-defense in solid opposition to this measure, which seeks, because of the actions of few abhorrent individuals, to deprive millions of law-abiding Americans of their Second Amendment rights and possibly to criminalize so many of these individuals as to glut the federal criminal justice system.
We might ask, “Didn’t the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court rulings settle the issue that the Second Amendment is indeed an individual right?” Yes, it did settle that argument, but the decisions, like so much appellate law in our strained legal system, were narrow in focus and left room for politicians to attempt regulations that could pass as not infringing on the Second Amendment. In other words, those decisions created much potential work for lawyers. SA 2575 does not attempt to ban firearms such as the AR-15 or the Glock semi-auto pistol; it goes after an accessory item, enabling lawyers to argue that one can own as many semi-autos as he can afford, but must use only magazines that hold ten or fewer rounds.
Now since Kentucky wildlife regulations restrict magazines to ten rounds for deer hunting, a hunter might think that the high-cap ban is a “reasonable” control measure and of little impact on his interests. But larger capacity magazines are legal for coyote and varmint hunting, and while ten-round mags are available for the very popular AR-15, aficionados of the civilian version of the iconic M-16 and M-4 military rifles rely on the standard thirty-rounder, which is widely available. Loss of the thirty-round magazine for the AR would seriously disrupt many competitive games and drills, especially in three-gun contests. The impact on competitive pistol shooting, which involves large capacity magazines, would also be profound.
Schumer’s remarks about the amendment are an effort to soften his past reputation as a gun banner. In this post-Heller and McDonald world he now concedes the right of gun ownership and has crafted this measure in an effort to make it appear reasonable. It does not include magazines legally owned before enactment, so it would not eliminate high-cap magazines immediately, but as existent magazines wear out—and they do, especially those used hard in practice drills and competition—it would dry up the supply of functional magazines. The amendment does not include the built-in tubular magazines of .22 Rimfires.
The amendment creates serial number tracking and opens the way for additional regulation by the Attorney General without Congressional approval. This would mean more government by bureaucratic fiat.
And we must never overlook the often-cited but none-the-less valid “slippery slope” principle. A successful ban on high-cap magazines would encourage prohibitionists to attack magazines of even lower capacity.
Wildlife agencies have imposed limitations on the number of rounds hunting weapons can hold as conservation measures. It began with federal regulations on wildfowl and the three-shell limit to minimize the kill when birds are massing within range. This spread down to the states, mostly I suspect to spare covey birds such as quail from the casualties some skilled shooters could inflict on a single close rise. One old timer I knew used a Model 12 Winchester in 16 bore, which he could fire by holding back on the trigger and pumping the slide. Before he had to plug it to three, he often got in five kill shots on a flush. “I never could get off that sixth shot,” he lamented. The three-shot limit is a good idea with upland game, but I question its value as a conservation effort in deer hunting. I’ve listened to a lot of wild firing in these hills during the modern gun deer season and I’ve never heard anyone unload what sounded like even a ten-round-fed weapon. Ten is about the upper limit of the mags available as after-market accessories for the larger deer hunting calibers in sporting weapons, though an M-14 type military piece in 7.62mm (.308 Winchester) would be an excellent deer rifle. I don’t believe hunters would rush to acquire higher capacity magazines even if they could use them, or if they were economically available in the larger calibers. Relatively few people will choose to hunt deer with the AR-15’s small 5.56 mm (.223) cartridge, though it is legal and with good bullet placement, is fully effective against deer.
Wildlife laws that limit ammo capacity in hunting rifles might be doing more harm to the cause than good if the banners can make political capital by citing them to downplay the impact on their proposals on sporting use. The negligible good magazine restrictions might do for wildlife conservation isn’t worth the spin disingenuous anti-gun politicians might obtain from their existence. State wildlife agencies have a sterling record of official support for the rights of all gun owners and they might consider removing magazine capacity restrictions in order to deny the enemies of the Second Amendment this point for argument.
Gun rights advocates have charged hard during this week of July 29to defeat SA 2575, at one point on the 31st overloading Capitol phone lines with calls to senators urging rejection of the measure. At my deadline for this piece, the matter was unresolved. We whose interest in firearms is mostly keyed to hunting weapons should stand in solidarity with those involved in tactical shooting for recreation or competition and the folks concerned primarily with self-defense. Like Franklin said of himself and his fellow colonial revolutionaries, “We must all hang together or all hang separately.” Hunters should stay aware of what is happening legislatively and keep the pressure on lawmakers to respect the Second Amendment and its supporters. We should know our friends and enemies and treat them appropriately in the voting booth.