The argument goes something like this:
Look ,nobody is trying to take your guns away. We’re on board with you there, brother! The Supreme Court has ruled that you have an individual right to own a gun. But all rights have limits, you know? I mean, you can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. And besides, nobody really needs a clip that holds thirty rounds unless they’re hunting humans, do they? We can limit the body count in cases like this by simply reducing the capacity of the magazines. That’s not so unreasonable, is it?
Unfortunately somebody has to be the bad guy here, so I’ll field the question. Yes. Yes, it is completely unreasonable. And furthermore, this is precisely the wrong time to be having this discussion. You’re only doing it now because politicians tend to get a bit gun shy (if you’ll pardon the phrase) at times like this and fidget around, not wanting to look too gun happy. But since you took the time to ask, I’ll sit down with you here and try to explain why that is.
There are two related but equally dangerous problems with this argument. The first is whether or not there is a “need” for people to have a high capacity magazine which holds 30 or more rounds. (And this is one argument which even Ed Morrissey seemed willing to give some ground on in the article linked above.) I’ll grant you that the number of scenarios where it might be useful is limited indeed. You’ll never get that many shots at any game animal you’re hunting and a Glock is really a fairly useless weapon for hunting to begin with. And you’re never going to be in that much of a rush to get off such a large number of rounds in conventional target shooting competition.
But I can think of one – hopefully very rare – situation where it might come in handy. That would be in a home defense situation where you’re facing multiple armed assailants. Granted, with a lot of practice you can switch out a clip on a handgun in a few seconds, but not everyone has that skill. (I’ve actually experimented with this in the past, and under ideal conditions I can do it in about four.) The point here, though, is that it isn’t totally inconceivable that somebody might run into a use for it.
But that is actually a far less important consideration than the second point of the argument. The real question here is whether or not the need to be able to fire that many rounds constitutes sufficient grounds, and if the government could or should mandate such a limitation on that basis.
There is no end to the list of things Americans may not need to do. You don’t really need to be able to dance in a public park. Let’s face it, there are plenty of other ways to express happiness. And as far as physical training goes, you could always just do calisthenics. Further, as some nanny state enthusiasts might reason, the possibility exists that while dancing in a public park, you might fall down and hurt yourself. Even worse, your clumsy frolicking could lead you to fall down and hurt someone else. But does that lack of need and potential self-injury provide grounds for the federal government to prohibit dancing in national parks? Where in the Constitution are we to find that power granted to them?
The point being, a lack of need for someone to perform a given activity does not automatically make a constitutionally sound argument in favor of government regulation. And if we were to give ground on this admittedly rational sounding argument – that the vast majority of Americans would never need a 30 round clip – then you have just established a very dangerous precedent.
What if the next argument comes in the form of the Gentleman from Vermont saying that 30 was too low of a bar, and perhaps 20 was more in line with our “needs?” It’s only a short hop from there to saying that only single shot weapons are required with each round needing to be manually expelled and replaced directly into the chamber.