Ruth Marcus has an interesting editorial on the now-expired federal Assault Weapons Ban, in which she focuses on its prohibition of magazines in excess of 10 rounds. The Tucson shooter used a 31-shot magazine, and the thought is that the ban might have made it more difficult for him to have armed himself so heavily.
What her column could have emphasized more heavily is that the ban had a grandfather clause--it prohibited the manufacture of such magazines beginning in 1994, and the sale and possession of those magazines; however, the possession and sale of larger magazines made before the ban went into effect remained legal. New York state law essentially continues the same ban, and so new magazines with capacities larger than 10 and made post-1994 are not legal here. The ultimate effect of the federal ban between 1994 and 2004, and the continuing ban within New York, is that the prices of these pre-ban magazines have risen, because the supply is limited. But the magazines are still available.
This illustrates a central quandary for Americans contemplating tighter gun regulations. The horse has definitely left the barn, a while ago. To take an overall-supply approach in order to really limit the ability of criminals to get these kinds of guns, particularly in the short-term, restrictions would need to go far beyond the Assault Weapons Ban--focusing on possession as well as manufacture, and leaving out grandfather clauses. That's very difficult terrain in American politics.
Evidence suggests that the ban was beginning to have a limiting effect on access to the defined weapons by 2004, and their use in crime (see for example Robert J. Spitzer's book, The Politics of Gun Control), but there remains much controversy over whether it had any demonstrable effect on overall rates of gun crime.
It's also worth noting that threats of bans are boons to manufacturers and dealers, and increase short-term supply. There is clear evidence that in the past production and demand have gone up as the perceived "risk" of a possible ban rises, and I'll bet that the purchase of large-capacity magazines will go up if the current discussion of a new ban continues, if it hasn't already (update: apparently it has). That will put more of these magazines into circulation as "pre-ban" approved stock, should any future ban result.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
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