Apr 21, 2013

High Capacity Magazines and Assault Weapons

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Mother Jones Yearlong investigation into gun laws and mass shootings

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I spent 32 years in the Marine Corps Reserve including two tours in Vietnam. I know something about weapons.

I support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. I think it is reasonable for people to have weapons for self defense. But why do you need a magazine with 30 or more rounds? To kill lots of people.

We used 20 round magazines for our M-16's in Vietnam. My father used 8 round clips in his M-1 in World War II. In World War I and II and in Vietnam we used the 1911 .45 Pistol with 7 or 8 rounds.


Guns are pervasive in America.  They are very difficult to control. Gun rights advocates vigorously oppose any restrictions, despite some of the recent mass murders.

Weapons used in the American Revolution took a long time to reload after each single round was fired.  A mass killing of numbers of civilians by a lunatic gunman was virtually impossible.

But guns gradually became more accurate and with a much higher rate of fire.  We developed revolvers with 5 and 6 round capacities. And then bolt and lever actuated rifles with higher rates of fire. And  then finally semi automatic and fully automatic weapons.

We do accept some limitations on guns.  We prohibit fully automatic machine guns and grenades, for example.  This came about in 1934 when America was aghast at the carnage committed by organized crime with Thompson sub machine guns. It was obvious that the Thompson was good for war, gangland slayings, mass murder and nothing much else. The laws let citizens keep rifles and shotguns and pistols for hunting and self defense.

In 1934 normal guns were far more limited then they are today.  We regulated fully automatic weapons, but did not restrict semi automatic weapons.

A fully automatic weapon continues to fire as long as you keep the trigger pulled. A semi automatic weapon fires one bullet with each trigger pull. The movies make it seem that fully automatic weapon fire is very deadly. It is, but aimed semi automatic fire is also very deadly. In fact, in Vietnam our M-16's were all fully automatic, encouraging the troops to shoot too fast and too wildly. Our M-16's now permit firing in three round bursts - one trigger pull for three rounds.  

The weapon above is the M1911 .45 caliber semi automatic pistol, called the 1911 for the year of its beginning. It was used by the US Military in World War I and II and in Korea and Vietnam and helped us win those wars.  It is still used by some units in the military.  It had a magazine of seven or eight rounds. It was the weapon my father used in World War II and it was the one I used in Vietnam.

The weapon below is a more modern Glock, a popular pistol. It can be used with 33 round magazines.  This number of rounds could be handy in a firefight in a war but are not needed for self defense unless you are a really poor shot and unconcerned about wounding nearby innocent people.

Glock with 33 round magazine

The weapon above an Ar-15 GL-Shock M4 similar to the M-16 that we used in Vietnam and currently and the M-4, the carbine version of the M-16. We used twenty round magazines in Vietnam - you can get 30 to 50 round magazines now.


Civilian versions do not permit full automatic fire. Still, it will shoot as fast as you pull the trigger. A very formidable weapon.

Another facet to the appeal of the assault rifle is that it looks cool and dangerous and is dangerous. That is fine for normal people. But for angry suicidal lunatics Rambo Wannabes it is a formula for disaster.

Do we really want lunatics to have access to these weapons?  Do the rights of responsible gun owners trump public safety?

Would gun control opponents agree to any legislation that would restrict them from high capacity magazines?

Let us look at two recent examples.  The shootings in Arizona were stopped when the gunman ran out of ammo and had to reload.  People were able to jump him and disarm him.  Two teachers in Connecticut apparently tried to jump the gunman. But with his high capacity magazines they could not succeed. If either man had had to reload after a few rounds the carnage might have been much less.

Politics is the art of compromise.  I advocate that the second amendment and our history supports the rights of civilians to own rifles, pistols, and shotguns for hunting, target practice, and self defense.  

And I get the idea that permitting concealed carry by responsible citizens could be a good thing.  I support that idea. But it is unlikely that the right person will often be in the right place at the right time.

But I also support the elimination of assault rifles, and the elimination of any magazines over 7 rounds.  That permits anyone to hunt and defend themselves, but limits the carnage created when a lunatic finds high capacity weapons.