Democrats in the state legislature are moving to ban “high capacity magazines” for most gun owners in Wisconsin. But what effect such a ban would have on mass shootings and even the definition of what a high capacity magazine is remains heavily disputed. According to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau, the bill:
prohibits a person from selling, transporting, purchasing, transferring, lending, pledging, distributing, importing, possessing, manufacturing, or using a detachable or fixed magazine that has a capacity of more than ten rounds of ammunition for a firearm except that a person who possessed such a magazine before the effective date of the bill may transport or possess the magazine without violating the prohibition. A person who violates the prohibition is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Democratic Representatives David Considine and Chris Taylor and Senator LaTonya Johnson said in an email seeking co-sponsors for the bill:
Large capacity magazines enable an individual to fire repeatedly without needing to reload. These types of magazines have been used in the horrific mass-killings in Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, Fort Hood, Columbine, and most recently, Parkland. The killer in the Las Vegas massacre had magazines that could carry upwards of 100 bullets.
According to Michael Siegel, a community health science professor at Boston University who researched the effects of magazine restrictions, “Whether a state has a large capacity ammunition magazine ban is the single best predictor of the mass shooting rate in that state.” He found that states with large capacity magazine limits of 10 or 15 are associated with a 63% lower rate of mass shootings.
However, a firearms expert and a retired Wisconsin police chief we spoke with challenge those claims. Former Denmark Police Chief Ron Towns told Media Trackers that the 10 round limit is arbitrary: “It’s the same argument liberals make when it comes to tax policy: ‘you should pay your fair share.’ But they never come up with a specific number. Or like the minimum wage argument, they arbitrarily pick $15 as being good instead of $30 or $40.”
The trio of lawmakers behind the bill says that the bill could help save lives. “A killer with a high capacity magazine can inflict war-like damage and mass homicides.” Towns concedes magazine capacity limits might reduce fatalities in mass shootings, but says the lawmakers aren’t being intellectually honest:
They may find it interesting to know that law enforcement has to train how to reload weapons proficiently. You can reload a 10 round magazine in less than 5 seconds (Towns argues even a shooter who isn’t highly trained can reload in ten seconds or less with practice). So get to 30 rounds we’re going to add 15-30 seconds to the event. And most perps faced with reloading issues would have multiple hand guns.
So what they’re (ban proponents) saying is 17 lives is unacceptable but six or seven is fine. That’s a ridiculous argument. What they’re really aiming for is banning all firearms. If you’re using the argument on magazine capacity, then you must say then that no lives are acceptable to be lost; then the only reasonable argument to be made is not to reduce magazine capacity but to eliminate firearms.
Mike Shea of Family Shooting Academy in Green Bay agreed with Towns about a 10 round limit being arbitrary:
Considering when we’re talking about AR-15, standard is 30 rounds. Calling anything over 10 rounds high capacity is a misnomer created by anti-gun propaganda because it sounds terrifying. You can get large magazines for a multitude of guns people aren’t even talking about.
The lawmakers also point to 2017 study in the Journal of Urban Health found that large capacity magazines have been used in over 40% of police murders in recent years. But Jacob Paulsen, writing at concealedcarry.com, said other studies challenge such results:
Research by John Lott found no impact of these bans on violent crime rates
The study by Christopher S. Koper, Daniel J. Woods, and Jeffrey A. Roth of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania found no statistically significant evidence that either the assault weapons ban or the ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds had reduced gun murders. However, they concluded that it was “premature to make definitive assessments of the ban’s impact on gun crime,” and argue that if the ban had been in effect for more than nine years, benefits might have begun to appear.
A 2004 critical review of firearms research by a National Research Council committee said that an academic study of the assault weapon ban “did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence outcomes.” The committee noted that the study’s authors said the guns were used criminally with relative rarity before the ban and that its maximum potential effect on gun violence outcomes would be very small.
Those who already possess large capacity magazines would be allowed to retain possession, but not use the magazines or purchase additional magazines. Alternatively, those who possess large capacity magazines may choose to sell them to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Law enforcement officers and military officers would be exempt from the limitation, when acting in an official capacity.