In the wake of mass murder in Newtown Connecticut, anti-firearm zealots were plotting strategy, even issuing a call to supporters of the ripe opportunity before them. Within 24 hrs of the murders, Connecticut Magazine published a “call to arms” (pardon the pun) to get “meaningful legislation” regarding gun control passed. Since that time the average person has been deluged with an onslaught of misinformation and outright lies concerning the 2nd Amendment, violent crime, firearms, and firearm laws and regulations. Several stand out as gigantic whoppers amongst fish tales, and among those greats, is the Mythical Tale of the Deadly High-Capacity Firearm Magazine.
It is often repeated ad nauseam that so-called assault weapons with high capacity magazines are nothing more than devices for killing people. There is partial truth in that statement, as all firearms are designed for killing…in defense of person, or country, or to provide food. This statement is clearly designed to appeal to the emotional side of human nature rather than the rational side. It is a “slogan” or “tag line” intended to evoke a desired emotional response. It is used in speeches by almost all those wishing to ban some or all firearms; from President Obama to our own home-grown gun-grabbers Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Dick Blumenthal, Jim Himes, John Larson to Media hype types such as CNN’s own rude British ex-pat anchor Piers Morgan to social leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Two days ago it was reported by the NYT’s that Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy is quoted as making the following statement in support of high capacity magazine bans.
“We do know that historically in these instances, amateurs have trouble switching magazines,” Mr. Murphy said, referring to the high-capacity ammunition feeding device used by Mr. Lanza to shoot scores of bullets in seconds. “I believe, and many of the parents there believe, that if Lanza had to switch cartridges nine times versus two times there would likely still be little boys and girls alive in Newtown today.”
Senator Murphy’s statement is not only absurdly outrageous on its face, but factually incorrect. It is not difficult to conduct a magazine exchange in most semi-auto firearms. What often does occur with high-capacity magazines is that they tend to “jam.” A firearm magazine basically is a box shaped tube containing at its base a spring with a shaped piece of metal above called a follower. The spring compresses as rounds are loaded into the magazine. As rounds are fired, the spring decompresses and continues to force fresh rounds up towards the firing chamber of the firearm. Normally, most quality made magazines perform as designed, however with extended high-capacity magazines of the type used in Newtown or elsewhere, there is a tendency for these devices to jam. Just as in the case of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting where mass murder suspect James Holmes semi-auto “assault weapon” jammed because of a high-capacity magazine failure. In fact a survivor credited that failure with his own life.
That would mean the Senator is either sadly misinformed or deliberately spinning a tale to suit his purposes. Only the Senator knows the answer to that question. But his statement does highlight the enormous amount of propaganda and falsehoods surrounding the high-capacity magazine debate.
In order to come to a rational decision regarding gun-control and by extension, high capacity magazines it is necessary to first ask the right questions such as: What role does a high-capacity magazine have in the commission of mass murder? If high capacity magazines do play a role in the commission of mass murder, will elimination of such magazines result in a decrease in mass murder? And of course the important overall question: Will regulating high capacity magazines among law-abiding, peaceful citizens who use them in a lawful manner have any effect upon the possession of such magazines by the violent criminal, presumably to be used in an unlawful manner?
Since mass murder is what has brought the focus upon high-capacity magazines, then that should be the first topic to examine. The history of mass murder in the United States and elsewhere in the world is well documented. Such terrible events go back more than 250 years in this country alone. For many of these vile acts, the modern “assault rifle” or high-capacity firearm magazine was not yet invented. But not to worry, villains bent on mass murder found a way using explosives, knives, revolvers, axes, and yes, even swords. Examining the historical record over the long-term, there appears to be no more acts of mass murder today than 100 years ago. In fact, despite an uptick in crime in recent years, presumably due to the abysmal economy, the actual violent crime rate in the United States and elsewhere has been falling for more than two decades with the exception of Chicago.
The record books are littered with horrific examples. In 1995 Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people (15 of them children) and injured 800 in the Oklahoma City bombing with a van filled with fertilizer and kerosene. In 1966 Charles Whitman killed 19 people and wounded 32 in the Texas University Tower mass murder using a bolt-action rifle. In 2011 Wellington Menezes de Oliveira murdered 12 school children and wounded 20 others at an elementary school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil using two revolvers. It was the first non-gang related school mass shooting in that nation. Anatoly Onoprienko killed at least 52 people including children in what would now be characterized as “home invasions” in the Ukraine from 1989-1996 using a shotgun. He preyed upon unarmed families living in remote areas. In Australia Malcolm George Baker killed 6 people with a pump shotgun in 1992, the same kind of firearm currently touted by Vice President Joe Biden as an acceptable alternative to a semi-auto rifle for home protection.
In 1977, Lorne Joe Acquin killed his foster-brother, foster-brother’s wife and 7 children with a tire-iron in Prospect, Connecticut. And of course let us not forget September 11, 2001, where jumbo jets were turned in weapons of mass destruction resulting in the mass-murder of more than 3 thousand innocents. Not to be ignored, in 2005 Juan Manuel Alvarez killed 11 people by parking his gasoline soaked SUV on a railroad track causing a derailment and collision of two trains or cult-leader Chizuo Matsumoto for the 1995 Sarin subway gas attack in Japan that killed 12 people.
Although not a mass-murderer, assassin Lee Harvey Oswald managed to kill the President of the United States who, at the time, was surrounded by bodyguards and police with nothing more than a cheap $20.00 mail-order bolt-action rifle by firing several accurate shots in quick succession at a moving target from a considerable distance.
But does the high capacity magazine play a role in mass murder? The answer is more no than yes. A weapon used in a mass murder is a tool of choice, predicated upon the villain’s intelligence, skill, mental state, and desire to inflict maximum damage. In short, the weapon of choice to an individual bent on mass murder could be almost anything from an automobile to an ax to kerosene-soaked fertilizer loaded into a van. The weapon chosen is the tool used to result in a desired outcome. Like the architect that strives to incorporate his environment into building design or the ancient Romans who used readily available local materials to construct their massive building projects all over the Mediterranean, the mass murderer historically uses whatever is available to him or her that will cause maximum destruction.
So the next assumption by many would be; to eliminate high-capacity magazines will eliminate one device available to the mass murderer. The problem is complex and multi-faceted. The high-capacity magazine is only a part to a semi-auto firearm; a device designed to reload quickly. The fact that limiting magazine capacity will simply require the bad guy to carry more of them on his/her person negates any benefit to banning high capacity magazines. So then the next logical step to the firearms novice (or politician) would be to ban semi-auto firearms. That would solve the problem of reloading quickly no? Well the answer is no. In the example above; Wellington Menezes de Oliveira managed to kill 12 school children and wound 20 more two years ago in Brazil with 2 revolvers. In an area rife with illegal automatic weapons, Oliveira chose 2 revolvers rather than auto or semi-auto firearms. Why? It is not reported, but one would suspect that was due to availability and apparently Mr. Oliveira did not have trouble reloading his revolvers as Senator Murphy has alleged. But availability, or lack thereof, did not stop this madman, or quite frankly any of the others listed. Each chose a weapon from what was available in their environment and what they thought in their twisted minds would inflict maximum damage…and more importantly each was successful. So in the end what does the historical data tell us when it comes to mass murder? If the role of the high-capacity magazine is merely one of ancillary convenience and availability, will a ban on such equipment result in a reduction of mass murders? The historical evidence points to the contrary.
Which brings us to the last question: Will banning high capacity magazines among law-abiding, peaceful citizens who use them in a lawful manner have any effect upon the possession of such magazines by the violent criminal, and presumably save lives? As indicated above, the answer is most likely no. A villain dedicated to commit atrocious acts of mass murder that has the intelligence, the mental state, and the skill will choose what is available to him/her and make use of it to the best of their abilities.
In October of 2003, after a two year study, the Centers for Disease Control released “First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws”. Their research also included a review of the federal assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine restrictions of 1994.
The conclusion was summarized as follows:
“The Task Force's review of firearms laws found insufficient evidence to determine whether the laws reviewed reduce (or increase) specific violent outcomes”
It is understandable that when terrible events occur people look for solutions to prevent such horrors in the future. In today’s very fast-paced society we have come to expect a simple direct solution to our problems and often look to our political leaders for answers. Unfortunately there is no simple solution to end violent crime in America, much less mass murders, and our politicians have no effective ideas beyond legislative Whac-A-Mole. They simply re-tread and parrot the same misguided notions. But one thing is fairly certain; no piece of legislation proposing to add further bans on semi-auto firearms and magazines over the myriad of firearms laws already on the books will prevent incidents of this type from occurring in the future.