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Op-Ed: Limit Rounds Weapons Can Carry

Last month, I pledged to Louisvillians that I would do everything I can to help reduce gun violence in our community and throughout the country. And while that effort will take many forms, I believe common-sense restrictions on high-capacity magazines, like the ones used against schoolchildren and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is a good place to start.

That is why I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 138, the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act. This legislation bans the sale or transfer of magazines, belts, drums, feed strips, and similar devices with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

A high-capacity magazine allowed Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner to fire 31 bullets in 15 seconds, killing six, wounding 15, and forever changing the lives of my friend and colleague, Gabby Giffords, and so many others. He fired until he had to reload, and bystanders wrestled him to the ground.

A 100-round drum enabled James Holmes to light up a dark movie theater in Aurora, Colo., with a semiautomatic assault rifle modeled after the military’s M-16 and capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute. Holmes’ assault weapon jammed after he’d fired 30 rounds, forcing him to switch to a handgun. He killed 12 and injured 58.

Imagine if Loughner had to stop earlier. Imagine if Holmes didn’t stop.

Large-capacity magazines have been legal since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, although a number of state legislatures have enacted bans. The National Rifle Association, which continues to prioritize the interests of gun manufacturers over the more responsible views of the majority of its members, has been a formidable if predictable opponent of virtually any law that acknowledges the role of guns in gun violence, including the regulation of high-capacity magazines.

In 2011, the NRA fought and defeated a magazine ban in Connecticut. Had it been enacted, the law would have made it illegal for Adam Lanza’s mother to buy the devices that helped her son kill 27 women and children in a rampage unparalleled in its tragedy.

The NRA’s Washington lobbyists argue that restrictions on magazine size would not stop any of these shootings from taking place. That’s likely true. But there is no reasonable argument against the simple fact that restricting magazine size would save lives. High-capacity magazines allow for maximal destruction with minimal effort, and it is preposterous to think that even slightly limiting the number of shots these mass-murderers could fire would do anything but save lives.

Law enforcement analysts confirm the direct correlation between magazine capacity and high numbers of casualties in mass shootings. As deadly as they are, however, semiautomatic weapons are not as devastating as machine guns. Yet, despite documented motives of causing maximum destruction, every mass shooter in recent U.S. history — including those at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Columbine — has used a high-capacity clip, not a fully automatic machine gun.

Common sense tells us the reason the killers went with the less-deadly weapon: It was easy. The sale of new fully automatic weapons has been illegal in the United States since 1986, while high-capacity magazines are readily available at gun stores, some sporting goods stores, and online. The high-capacity magazines used in the murder of 69 people in Norway in 2011 were acquired by U.S. mail order.

We have gun control in this country. Without question, lives have been saved because fully automatic weapons are illegal. But that’s not enough. We need stronger laws. By banning high-capacity magazines and making them equally difficult to obtain, we can save even more lives.

Most Americans agree. According to a Gallup poll in December, more than six in 10 support banning high-capacity magazines. Even more support other common-sense regulations: 95 percent of Americans favor universal background checks, and 78 percent believe guns should be registered, according to a CNN/ORC poll last month.

No single law will prevent every massacre, but we have an obligation to our families, friends, and fellow citizens to consider any measure that will reduce gun deaths. A ban of high-capacity magazines will spare more families the kind of shattering violence we have come to regard as routine in this country. No life is worth the freedom to shoot 30 bullets without pause.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, is a member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. This article appeared in The Courier-Journal on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.