January 14, 2011

Bill Nemitz: Who needs a gun with a 33-round magazine?

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.

John Green, Roxanna Green, Dallas Green
click image to enlarge

John Green rests his hand on his son Dallas’ leg during the funeral of his daughter, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, on Thursday in Tucson, Ariz. Christina Taylor Green, the youngest victim of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, was felled by a gun with a 33-round magazine fired by Jared Loughner.

The Associated Press

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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