Since the early 1990s, several states have passed restrictions on firearm magazines as a purported public safety measure. To date, the Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to hear cases surrounding these “high-capacity” magazine bans.1 This has led to a fractured and unpredictable state of the law. These laws, as well as the “assault weapon” bans they tend to come packaged with, are abridgments of the natural right to self-defense. Moreover, they fail to provide sufficient benefit to justify their inherent costs.
There are three main problems with these bans. First, the term “high-capacity” is used by legislatures to describe standard, common equipment rather than magazines that stretch a weapon’s capacity beyond its intended design. Second, discussions of the issue are replete with fundamental misconceptions about firearm magazines and their place under the Second Amendment. In fact, some courts have held that magazines have no constitutional protection at all, contravening precedent indicating that the right to keep and bear arms protects all bearable arms in common use, including their magazines and ammunition, regardless of the arms in existence at the time of the Founding. Magazines are not mere accessories, but essential components of modern firearms.
Third, there is little evidence that high-capacity magazine restrictions have any positive effects on public safety. To support these laws, states point to horrific crimes involving large-capacity magazines. But the connection between the crime and the magazine is conjectural at best, while the prohibitions against such magazines have disrupted the lives of many otherwise law-abiding gun owners — and all without any evidence of improvements in public safety. In some courts, it seems that merely uttering the phrase “gun violence” suffices to justify any exercise of state power. These policies are ineffective, dangerous, and unconstitutional.
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