Fact: When Jared Lee Loughner pulled out his Glock 19 last weekend and opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and everyone else in sight outside a shopping plaza in Tucson, his weapon included a “high-capacity magazine” containing 33 bullets — every last one of which he used.
Fact: By the time he ran out of ammunition and was tackled by bystanders, Loughner had managed to kill six people and wound 13 others.
Fact: Had Loughner’s handgun had a 10-round magazine, fewer bullets would have flown. And consequently, fewer people would now be dead or recovering from their wounds.
Which brings us to a painfully obvious question: What, beyond lending speed and efficiency to mass murder, is the point of the high-capacity magazine?
And while we’re on the subject, what are the chances that Maine might ban this lethal add-on to a semi-automatic pistol?
“There’s a lot of dispute and emotion back and forth about the Tucson shooting, but no one seems to be disagreeing that if (Loughner) didn’t have a 33-bullet clip, fewer people would have been shot. That seems to be a given,” said William Harwood shortly after emerging Thursday afternoon from a meeting with fellow board members of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.
The board’s unanimous decision: Ask the Maine Legislature, right now, to join six other states that already prohibit the sale or transfer of high-capacity magazines.
It won’t be easy. In fact, it might just be impossible.
But hats off to the organization for trying.
A little background:
Before it expired in 2004, the federal ban on assault weapons included any gun magazine capable of carrying more than 10 rounds.
Since then, according to the California-based Legal Community Against Violence, such magazines have been banned in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York. In addition, New Jersey limits magazines to 15 rounds, while Maryland imposes a cease-fire at 20.
Harwood, a Portland lawyer who helped found Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence in 1999, knows better than most what awaits the organization as it goes about crafting its legislation and finding lawmakers who are willing to at least usher it through the State House door.
Currently, three bills backed by the group are in this session’s legislative hopper: One would enable police to confiscate household weapons before clearing a domestic-violence call; another would expedite adding to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System the names of people deemed by Maine courts to be mentally ill; the third would allow municipalities to ban firearms in public places.
(Not on the organization’s wish list is a fourth gun bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples: It would prohibit an employer from telling an employee they can’t keep a gun in their car “as long as the vehicle is locked and the firearm is not visible.” So much for the GOP-controlled state government keeping its regulatory mitts off Maine’s business community.)
Adding a proposed ban on high-capacity magazines to that mix, Harwood expects, will provoke the same response he gets from National Rifle Association-backed lawmakers whenever he shows up to testify in favor of adding a little sanity to Maine’s gun laws.
“As soon as they see me coming through the door, they clam up and say, ‘It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth,’ ” Harwood said. “It’s the slippery slope argument: ‘You’re going to take all the guns away from my constituents if I let you, so get out of here.’ “
Next comes the catch-all claim that any infringement on gun ownership (rapid-fire doo-dads included) is nothing short of an assault on the Second Amendment.
And last but not least, Harwood is told, “We don’t have that kind of problem in Maine. That’s elsewhere — other people have those problems. So we’re not going to address them.”
That last one, Harwood noted, invites the same kind of tragedy that’s playing out in Arizona.
“Gabby Giffords is not so different from (U.S. Rep.) Mike Michaud or (U.S. Rep.) Chellie Pingree,” Harwood said. “And we have our fair share of mentally ill people here in Maine. You put the mental illness and the high-capacity (magazine) together and it’s lethal.”
Speaking of Congress, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., on Thursday began circulating a bill that would reinstate the federal ban on high-capacity magazines — one of which was used in 1993 to kill six people (including her husband) and wound 25 others (including her son) on a Long Island commuter train.
A survey of Maine’s congressional delegation reveals that Pingree will co-sponsor the measure because “there is no reason anyone needs a high-capacity magazine for hunting or target practice.”
Michaud looks forward to “thoroughly examining this issue.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins “is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment” but “does not believe there is any hunting or sporting purpose for these high volume clips.”
And U.S. Sen Olympia Snowe, who notably is up for re-election in 2012, has voted once against such a ban and thinks “the course we must take is to strictly enforce our existing laws and punish those who violate those laws.”
But we digress.
Back to the initial question: Why are 33-round magazines so all-fired necessary in the first place?
Thursday morning, I called the National Rifle Association headquarters in Virginia to see if they at least could explain that one to me.
Neither Christopher Cox nor John Hohenwarter, both of whom are registered in Augusta as lobbyists for the NRA and thus will be headed our way in the coming weeks, was available to chat. But I did get a quick e-mail response from NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons.
“At this time,” Parsons wrote, “anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate.”
Fair enough. But let the record show that the number of people on that prayer list is directly proportionate to the number of bullets that flew nonstop Saturday out of the muzzle of Jared Loughner’s gun. A gun now available, complete with the 33-bullet magazine, at a Maine firearms dealer near you.
That, like it or not, is a fact.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: