Bringing Back The Clinton Magazine Ban

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have proposed an amendment to the “Cybersecurity Act” to ban standard capacity magazines.

The amendment would ban import, possession, and transfer of magazines that accept (or could be readily converted to accept) more than ten rounds and that are manufactured after the enactment of the amendment. Pre-ban magazines could be possessed by the current owner, but not transferred or imported. The ban only excludes tubular magazines designed to accept .22-caliber ammunition.

This amendment is similar to the ban imposed by the Clinton Administration that expired when the failed semi-auto ban ended in 2004, but more restrictive. During the 10 years that law was in effect, it was never shown that any aspect of the ban had any impact on the criminal misuse of firearms. In the eight years the ban expired, millions more magazines have been made and sold, while homicide and other violent crimes have continued to hit near-record lows each year.

The amendment would violate the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment protects the possession of arms that are commonly used for lawful purposes. Firearms designed to use magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are among the most commonly owned and used self-defense guns today. Millions of such magazines are in circulation amongst law-abiding people. Indeed, they are the overwhelming choice of state and local police departments nationwide, contradicting ban supporters’ claim that such magazines are only suitable for use in crime.

The amendment provides for fines and up to 10 years in prison for violations. That is double the possible prison term under the 1994-2004 ban.

For those who own magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, the amendment would also create a new risk of prosecution. Because virtually no existing magazines bear any markings that show when they were made, the amendment would require that magazines made after the ban be marked to distinguish them from pre-ban magazines. However, the bill’s “grandfather clause” for possession of pre-ban magazines would only create an affirmative defense — forcing defendants to produce evidence that they possessed the magazines before the ban. This nearly impossible requirement is a major difference from the 1994 ban, which put the burden of proof on the government and established a legal presumption that unmarked magazines predated the ban.

Obviously, despite the burdens it would put on honest Americans, the amendment wouldn’t stop criminals from obtaining magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Tens of millions of Americans own countless tens of millions of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and confiscation of existing magazines would be impossible. Anything that common can be stolen or bought on the black market. And even if no magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds were available, criminals could still use multiple smaller magazines, multiple firearms, more powerful firearms, or weapons other than firearms.

Finally, the proposed ban’s prohibitions are so sweeping that they prevent even those in lawful possession of pre-ban magazines from sharing the magazines with a companion at a range or training course, or taking them on a trip overseas and bringing them back into the country. Millions of people who have never committed a crime or posed a risk of harm to anyone would arbitrarily be subject to prosecution for a 10-year federal felony.

 

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