If state lawmakers are serious about wanting to respond meaningfully to the Newtown mass shooting tragedy, there is a clear path. They should ban high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in most of the mass killing episodes in recent years.
These devices allow a shooter to kill dozens of people in minutes without reloading, firing a shot with each twitch of a finger. Such magazines are illegal for use by deer hunters in Maine, but otherwise are completely unrestricted.
High-capacity magazines are for killing large numbers of people quickly, not for home defense. They are a convenience for target shooters, but also for deranged killers.
Judge Larry Allen Burns, the conservative federal judge who sentenced Jared Loughner to seven consecutive life terms for the 2011 Tucson rampage shooting, wrote a recent column in the Los Angeles Times saying that high-capacity magazines are beyond the reasonable boundaries of a good-faith debate on gun control.
“We might be able to take the ‘mass’ out of ‘mass shooting,’ or at least make the perpetrator’s job a bit harder,” if these clips were outlawed, he said.
In Maine, legislative leaders are right to assemble a stakeholders group to consider the many elements that came together in the Newtown massacre.
Maine House Speaker Mark Eves wants to facilitate a conversation between gun control advocates, sporting groups and mental health providers to see if there are consensus changes that could improve public safety. That process should go forward.
But no one needs to wait for it to be completed to take action.
While the images of 20 first-graders’ funerals are still fresh in everyone’s minds, a separate bill that bans high-capacity magazines should be put before lawmakers.
This would be a small, concrete step that could make a real difference. It is also one that is fairly uncontroversial. Except for gun-rights extremists, there are few responsible gun owners who argue in favor of a device that allows a shooter to rip off 30 or even 100 rounds in a matter of minutes.
Other aspects of gun control are far more complex. Assault weapons bans get into thorny issues of definition. Implementing universal background checks poses a number of difficulties.
But the Maine Legislature could easily pass a ban on high-capacity magazines, and tell the world that we are serious about protecting one of our schools from becoming the next Sandy Hook Elementary.