“We need to keep these magazines out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, etc so to do that we must ban these high capacity clips!”

–Ban proponent

It seems as though after every tragedy involving a shooting victim there is a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to ban so called “high capacity clips”. There are usually several arguments put forth, but for the sake of this discussion we will focus on the “prevention” argument.

First off, we need to make sure that we use the correct language. What they really are referring to is magazines. What is a “high capacity” or “large capacity” magazine? Apparently any enclosed device that fees rounds to a firearm that can hold over an arbitrarily picked number of rounds. Frequently the number of 10 is said as a “reasonable” number.

This begs the question, if we instituted a ban tomorrow on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, would that keep them out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, etc?

In order to answer that question, we have look at the definition of a criminal. Dictionary.com states that a criminal is “a person guilty or convicted of a crime”, so logically we can say that a criminal is someone who by definition doesn’t obey laws. It is therefore a logical error to assume that a person who doesn’t obey the law would obey the law.

Murder is already against the law. That law didn’t prevent the murders that have occurred to date. If a murderer is already fine with killing someone else, why would we expect that same individual to now suddenly respect a magazine ban? Do we seriously think that a criminal would stop trying to murder someone because there is a law that says they can’t have a magazine of a particular size? Of course not.

This argument confuses the concept of prevention versus punishment. It makes sense to have a law to punish someone who does something wrong, such as murder someone else. However, the law only kicks in after the fact. The law didn’t prevent the murder from happening.

This argument also rests on the premise that somehow a ban on these types of magazines would prevent them every being obtained by an individual. This is a logical fallacy. If implementing a ban on something made it impossible to obtain we might want to inform the DEA that they no longer have to worry about illegal drugs being present in the US.

Also, in order to implement a suggested ban, there is also another angle that many of the ban proponents don’t discuss, that being:

“What do you do with all the magazines that are already out there?”

Currently there are literally millions of magazines larger than 10 rounds in the hands of private, law abiding citizens. Do you then pass a law saying that anyone in possession of those magazines now should be treated as a felon? That would seem rather silly, would it not, considering all those people would otherwise be normal law abiding people? Or would you implement a ban by grandfathering the possession of those currently owned magazines and set some arbitrary date saying that they can’t be sold after that date?

Even if you did grandfather those magazines, then the question is how do you identify a “pre-ban” magazine from a “post-ban” magazine? Many magazines don’t have a date stamp on them indicating their year of manufacture. So now a person who thinks they are purchasing a pre-ban magazine may be buying a “post-ban” magazine and become a felon without knowing it.

For example, Massachusetts passed their own law regarding so called “high capacity” magazines in 1994. They picked an arbitrary date and declared that any “high capacity” magazine made after that date would now be illegal to possess with very limited exceptions. And by illegal, I mean really illegal, as in a felony with associated jail time:

Section 131M. No person shall sell, offer for sale, transfer or possess an assault weapon or a large capacity feeding device that was not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994. Whoever not being licensed under the provisions of section 122 violates the provisions of this section shall be punished, for a first offense, by a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years, or by both such fine and imprisonment, and for a second offense, by a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $15,000 or by imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than 15 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

-Source: MGL Chapter 140 Section 131M

Here is an example: Which of these are pre-ban magazines and which are post-ban? Keep in mind that if you are in a state like Massachusetts you can be charged with a felony if you get this question wrong:

Answer: It’s not always possible to know for sure. The ones pictured above are most likely post-ban, though it can’t be said with 100% certainty. These particular magazines don’t come with any type of date stamp so determining if it was “lawfully posessed” on September 13th, 1994 is nearly impossible.

Expanding on this, a person can be simply standing in a state such as New Hampshire holding an unloaded 30 round magazine that was made yesterday and be totally law abiding in their actions since New Hampshire has no such arbitrary magazine restriction. If that person then steps 1 foot into Massachusetts they instantly become a felon.

The question to ask is “Does that make sense from a logical standpoint? Should someone who is holding a piece of metal or plastic with a spring in it get thrown in jail with rapists and murderers?” That does seem rather odd, doesn’t it? Consider that the person didn’t do anything to harm or injure any other party and simply was in possession of that magazine made after an arbitrary date that was picked by the Massachusetts Legislature.