100-round magazine and the armed citizen

Holmes’ little arsenal is worth attending to. Especially the 100-round magazine and the ammunition dump that would keep a Syrian rebel unit in business for days.  It was all legally purchased by a guy whose lifetime police record seems to have comprised one (1) speeding ticket. We don’t even know what kind of stuff he had in his apartment because we’re still afraid to try to get in for a look-see.

There is no sporting purpose nor personal defense value in a 100-round magazine; I’m not sure it even has a milspec number. (It does figure on Thompson submachine guns, in gangster movies and probably in resolving real turf disputes and other misunderstandings among uomini di rispetto at least back in the day, maybe still.) Same with the 31-shot magazine Loughner got to empty at Giffords’ group last year.  People who like to play with this stuff are quick to defend their rights to shred targets and watermelons down at the range for fun, but we regretfully prohibit even people whose pleasure therefrom might be enormous from messing with things like Ebola virus, or maintaining a stash of C4, or a flesh-eating staph zoo on the kitchen shelf.  No-one ever killed anyone with a reefer, and heaven knows lots of folks enjoy using them for fun, but we don’t even allow people to own weed (whether that benefit-cost analysis is correct is another story; the principle is what matters here).  With all due respect for privacy, we at least need a database system, based on solid identification, for purchases of stuff like this (I mean magazines far beyond any utility to a hunter, and thousands of rounds of ammunition) that allows authority to correlate it and do some serious investigation of the buyer.

Colorado is a concealed-carry state, but the movie theater didn’t allow customers to pack heat.  What if it had?  What happened is terrifying in itself, but if you really want to lie awake nights, imagine a dark, smoky, crowded theater filled with screaming people, Holmes firing away, plus a half-dozen or so armed citizens blazing away at “the guy with the gun”, meaning, assuredly, each other in addition to the perp with the big advantage of body armor, black clothes, and that 100-round AR-15.   This kind of peacemaking takes place backstopped by people (including people in the next theater behind a wall), and even your best-trained vigilante’s aim is much impeded by smoke, darkness, noise, and being bumped into by the terrified guy next to you, not to mention being shot first by Holmes who might be especially hostile to someone pointing a gun at him. Bad as this was, not having amateurs mixing in spared us a much worse tragedy, in which Holmes might have taken a hit or two to the bulletproof vest before he walked out, but a lot more patrons would have left in body bags. (David Weigel has some more reflections on this debate, if you can call it that.)


Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

38 thoughts on “100-round magazine and the armed citizen”

  1. Surely we’d all be safer if movies theaters issued guns to all patrons upon admittance. They could simply collect them afterwards, like 3-D glasses. Perhaps with a nominal charge for the ammunition expended.

    On second thought, this should probably be introduced at NASCAR races and the Republican convention, where people will be instantly receptive.

    1. Ah yes. Brilliant. A circular firing squad in a darkened theater. God save us from idiotic ideas such as yours.

  2. WWBBS? (What Would Brett Bellmore Say?) Maybe he’ll come back from hiatus to let us all know.
    Things are so quiet around here without the dear troll. Less exasperating but quiet.

    1. WWBBS? (What Would Brett Bellmore Say?)

      Freedom! You got something against freedom bub?

      And if you think I am just be snarky…
      I came across this remark from Senator Gramm after they (a room full of delightful R and D males) got rid of Glass-Steagall in 1999:

      “The world changes, and we have to change with it,” said Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who wrote the law that will bear his name along with the two other main Republican sponsors, Representative Jim Leach of Iowa and Representative Thomas J. Bliley Jr. of Virginia. “We have a new century coming, and we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”

      What I keep waiting and praying for is for someone with right wing cultural cachet to look the cameras and victims in the eye after one of these bursts of “freedom” and to say with a straight and serious face: This is the price we have to pay for freedom. And if you don’t like it, move to Europe.” Surely we can’t be too far from such a delightful moment…

      1. Gosh, it’s almost as if Brett heard the call all the way out at the back forty shooting range.

      2. re: “Freedom”.

        It boggles the mind, these sort of jingoist cognitive erections. One almost imagines the accompanying hand gestures Gramm might have performed. I think Republicans ought to completely do away with full sentences entirely and simply communicate one word at a time. Add a little lighting, theme music, choreography and you’ve got some serious theater. Grover Norquist commentary would be so much more fun. Just imagine… “Taxes!”… “Tyranny!”… “Socialism!”… and… scene.

      3. This is the price we have to pay for freedom. And if you don’t like it, move to Europe.”

        We’re looking in Canada in Sept, maybe next year in Europe. A society with more education, less violence, more healthy people, more economic equality, higher GINI…I must be un-American!

        1. I’m originally from Europe and I could not wait to move out: but hey, by all means, go. perhaps, after a few years of having the state up your ass, quenching any spark of individual initiative you may change your mind. oh, yes, they have decent health care…for now…education? it depends. higher Gini? if they collect their statistics the way the Greeks were collecting theirs it’s likely just smoke and mirrors….the good they have won’t last though…. the moment the whole thing will sink under the weight of my (sorry, their) welfare state and labor regulations and they will show themselves for the closeted authoritarians they are, you may regret not having a gun around….Nazis and Fascists are already going strong in southern europe…

      4. Rep. Louie Ghomert is always ready to answer “freedom’s” call.

        It just dawned on me to whom Ghomert gagged up this mental hairball. OMG! Ernestly Is-a-kook is surviving on the Heritage Foundation dole? Forced to actually share the same room with a rabid dingbats like Ghomert for canape scrapes from Koch bother’s lobbyist orgies? How Dickensian. There is a God and he has a sense of humor.

        1. Louie Ghomert couldn’t look any more like the Goober that enlightened and educated folks worlwide envision the ignorant American to be. That’s somewhat un Christlike of me but accurate, nonetheless.

    2. Let me play devil’s advocate for a bit?

      “The Colorado shooting was a tragic incident, but there is no evidence that stricter gun control laws would have prevented it. After all, Timothy McVeigh managed to kill 168 people and injure over 680 more without ever firing a single shot. Statistically, there is no evidence that lack of strict gun laws leads affects the number gun-related homicides; and there is some evidence that concealed-carry laws can actually discourage crime. Prohibiting and restricting gun ownership of law-abiding citizens does not make any more sense than prohibiting law-abiding muslims from flying or operating a plane in the aftermath of 9/11.”

      (Needless to say, I don’t actually agree with the above line of argument, but I think it would about capture Brett’s response. Or, well, what we might have written a couple of years ago; his reasoning had started to be fairly weak of late.)

      1. To respond, I categorically disagree with the presumption that the “right” to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right. It is a privilege that has an unfortunate tendency to come into conflict with actual fundamental human rights, most importantly the right to life.

        I also have no interest in living in a society where self-appointed sheriffs roam the streets. A bullet does not know right from wrong. Life is not a Hollywood movie where the good guys always win. A shootout favors whoever is the better shooter, not who is in the right.

        We live already in a depressingly violent society. We do not see much statistical evidence for gun laws affecting gun-based violence one way or the other because violence in America is already absurdly high (compared to other countries, not counting those involved in civil wars). Gun ownership as such may not affect the very high level of violence in America, but it is very likely that the violent fantasies surrounding gun usage feed the cycle of violence. As RFK said, “[t]oo often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others.” Whether that is gun-related power fantasies or sick jokes about prison rape or video games that allow you to beat in a woman’s face because you disagree with her feminist leanings.

        1. Thank you Katja for your thoughtful respose to my snarky question.
          One point: Countries with some sane level of gun control have far lower murder rates. Then of course their willingness to regulate guns could be a result of cultural reticence to violence but… having less numbers of high capacity arms floating around should make it harder for nutjobs to do the dirty deed. Of course clamping down on assault weapons at any point in time will still leave a lot of artillery out there so it would take a while for the arms race to dwindle by attrition.

          1. I still think there’s a strong cultural component. Consider that European languages do not have a term for “frontier” [1]. There is still a fair bit of frontier mentality in a lot of Americans (including myself). That has its good sides, but sometimes … well, let’s just say that this mentality also gave us Bill Whittle’s “Tribes” and Kim du Toit’s “The Pussification of the Western Male”. (If you aren’t familiar with either opus, no, neither is a parody.)

            I don’t think that strict gun control laws would accomplish much, to be honest. There are just too many guns in the wild. That particular horse left the barn a couple of centuries ago. I wouldn’t have a problem with such laws, I just think they’d be ineffective. European countries have the advantage that the market for guns was always far more limited than in America (with the exception of Switzerland, but private gun ownership of former conscripts subject to military law is still a different kettle of fish.) It also worth noting that the UK as a country with an extreme low level of gun violence also has most of the police unarmed (if you ever wondered why, google “Peterloo”).

            That said, I would have no problem with banning private ownership of weapons that have no legitimate use for hunting, sports, or self-defense. It may not cut down on the number of massacres, but it very likely would reduce their scale. The problem, as always, is that there is a strong faction that believes in gun ownership being an American’s natural right (just as lots of Germans consider driving without a speed limit a natural right — “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger”). That means that passing such a law would cost an enormous amount of political capital (you would, essentially, have to break the NRA’s influence). I think it would be necessary to first accomplish a cultural shift, though I have no idea how to go about that.

            [1] That includes British English, where frontier generally means something entirely different.

          2. If you look at it from a disease-modeling standpoint you get a similar result. Make transmision somewhat more difficult and reduce or even eliminate the high-end outliers, and in the long term you can make a big difference.

            Hence the resistance.

  3. Has any prominent Democrat asked the conservatives to say that they think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they framed the Second Amendment? The teabaggers are constantly pontificating about the intentions of Jefferson et al in the early days of the republic. The Founders never imagined a government role in health care, they assure us. But did the framers of the Constitution imagine 100 round magazines on full automatic, or did they imagine single-shot flintlock muskets?

    Yes, I would love to see conservatives forced to answer koreyel’s call to look the camera in the eye and say that this is the price we pay for freedom. Similarly, I would like to see them declare to a national audience that occasional mass shootings were part of what James Madison had in mind when the Bill of Rights was written.

    1. But did the framers of the Constitution imagine 100 round magazines on full automatic, or did they imagine single-shot flintlock muskets?

      Flintlocks are better than nothing, but when you really need that 100-round magazine is in the inevitable servile rising.

      It’s always 1850 in this country. And we’ve got the gun laws we’ve got because of Toussaint Louverture…

    2. Ed regarding this: The Founders never imagined a government role in health care, they assure us…

      I don’t know if you saw this tidy piece by Einer Elhauge (a professor at Harvard Law School), but it is astounding:

      If Health Insurance Mandates Are Unconstitutional, Why Did the Founding Fathers Back Them?

      The baggers bloviating on about the Founding Fathers reminds me of a George Carlin routine where he’d playact a schmuck yammering on about God, only to snap out of character and ask the audience: “If you were God, would you allow someone like that to talk about you?”

      1. I have an article in one of the journals of the history of medicine about the 1798 Act of Congress for the relief of sick and disabled seamen, but this Act appears to me to be a weak support for the constitutional case in favor of the 2009 Act for health care reform. The scope of that law was too narrow and too closely tied to ships involved in foreign commerce to serve as a useful model for the current law.

        My main point is that the men of the 18th century did not know what conditions their 21st century posterity would face. They wrote the Constitution to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, not to place a stranglehold on the choices that posterity could make in dealing with the issues of their day. Jefferson recognized this when he wrote to James Madison (http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch2s23.html ) “Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government…On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please.”

        Jefferson was advancing some rather fanciful notions about the expiration of contracted debts which would hardly be workable in any society, but the kernel of his idea should be placed at the center of any current discussion about the intentions of the Founders. They intended to provide a framework whereby we could figure out for ourselves what to do, not to constrain our flexibility in a rigid framework.

        The Founders were like Brian standing at the window in “Life of Brian,” shouting at the crowd, ‘You’ve got to work it out for yourselves, You’re all individuals.” The Tea Party is the crowd, repeating in unison “Yes, yes, we’re all individuals.”

        The Tea Party cannot hear Jefferson shouting at them, “Take the course which will seem to you to effect your safety and happiness, and do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. We did not consult our great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers in ordering our affairs; likewise, do not consult us about your matters.”

        They did not foresee troubled young men who could shoot 71 people in a couple of minutes; they did not foresee the resources required to deliver effective health care in an advanced technological society. They did expect us to figure out what to do in our own time without asking their permission about what to do. We owe it to them not to let them down.

    3. Yes, I would love to see conservatives forced to answer koreyel’s call to look the camera in the eye and say that this is the price we pay for freedom.

      Me too. But the gun nuts are too cowardly to defend their position that way. I speak from experience: in 15 years of arguing with the Bellmores of the internet, I have been offering to stop saying mean things about them if they would simply state, openly, that “freedom” is WORTH a few massacres a year; their invariable response is to deny the correlation between widespread gun ownership and the occasional mass murder.


    4. This question could easily be asked on the sunday morning shows. One of the democrats on these shows could challenge the hosts to ask it or they could ask it themselves. But we know that’ll never happen. Sorry, but I blame the citizens of this country for this. When we’ve tried to regulate these guns and clips look what happened. It’s not wonder that no politician wants to take this on. Until we get better citizens this is just what we deserve. Speaking of………how do those people in that Colorado district vote?

    5. I just answered my own question. That district is represented by Ed Perlmuter. He votes with the dems 85% of the time in what looks like a very competitive district.

    6. The “debate” has raged over all these years without any “pro-2nd amendment” fanatic owning up to the opening phrase, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”. The question has been posed so many times in so many ways and the answer from the gun-nuts is blather. They got nuthin’ but the NRA and that seems to work just fine.

      The intent of the framers is pretty clear and the US legal system has been studiously ignoring it as far back as I can remember.

      No doubt “The Joker” with the collection of machine guns thinks of himself as some kind of one man militia but I don’t think Washington, Jefferson, Madison and friends would have thought much of that guy’s idea of freedom. The arms that the well regulated militias were bearing back in those days were mostly stored in an armory.

  4. Michael,

    You are absolutely correct that a high-capacity magazine is of no use to a hunter. I used to hunt back in the day: mostly upland birds (dove, quail and pheasant) but also ducks and some larger game (deer and goats) too.

    A magazine with more than three rounds is in only two cases. One is for the lazy: someone who doesn’t want to reload as often at the range. The other is for killing people. In every serious hunting situation the hunter has to make the first shot count. There is sometimes an opportunity for a second shot and rarely a third. If hunting is the goal I can see no reason for a magazine capacity higher than three. But let’s be generous and say five.

    Some people like to shoot competitive combat courses. Because that simulates killing people, high capacity magazines are handy there. I was serious enough about hunting that when I was in college I had a shotgun along so I could go out bird hunting. My shotgun was stored in the College Police Department’s weapons locker: I was allowed to pick it up when I was leaving campus and had to check it in on my return. I do not see why a similar system would not work for high-capacity magazines: register them and leave them in the custody of the gun clubs.

    No set of gun laws consistent with the current interpretation of the Second Amendment will stop tragedies like Friday’s. Firearms are widely available and as long as that remains the case, psychopaths can get them. What we can do is not make it quite so easy to kill large numbers of people.

    There is one other question about his arsenal: where and how did he tear gas canisters?

    1. register them and leave them in the custody of the gun clubs.

      And in these days of hi-tech spying on citizens, track every single multi-shot clip/assault weapon/large ammo purchase. No one in this country can assert we are unable to track these things.

      1. That site is loaded with some frightening stuff. What earthly use does a private citizen have for OC grenades?

          1. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

    2. Tear gas (or competing products like pepper spray) are available over the counter as sprays in many states, although in others (like MA) they’re highly regulated. When I was in college in WA they were practically giving away pepper spray canisters; you’d see blister packs and even shoplifter-friendly bowls of keychain sprays near the sales counter of the university bookstore.

      But that’s sprays: short-ranged, targeted, and requiring continuous application of the trigger. What this guy apparently used was some sort of gas grenade. Why the heck there’s a civilian market for an area-dispersal delivery device (rather than a targeted defense spray) is beyond me, but Davis demonstrates upthread that these are freely available. It’s not clear to me whether CS gas is legal in any US state (my Google skills are apparently weak on this front) but it does appear that pepper spray can be quite effective, and is readily available.

      Also: was he using CS/tear gas or pepper spray grenades, or was he using smoke bombs? The latter are apparently much, much less regulated (because they are less hazardous) and are more widely available.

      1. Why the heck there’s a civilian market for an area-dispersal delivery device (rather than a targeted defense spray) is beyond me . . .

        You might be faced with an entire concert full of Al Green fans.

  5. Hey, what is watching Batman compared to being Batman.

    My Facebook discussion with a couple Batman wannabes here.

  6. I’ve been having a weird week, thinking about the Second Amendment and the way it is currently interpreted. Here’s what it says: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    But how is it currently being interpreted? Basically, that no restrictions on the possession of *guns* can be constitutional.

    But what, I say, about lances? Or broadswords? Or maces? Or switchblade knives? (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/chapter-29) What has happened to our rights to keep and bear those arms?

    For that matter, if a fully-automatic weapon with a 300-round magazine is an “arm,” why isn’t a hand grenade or a land mine an “arm”?

    When, I ask, did our definition of “arms” become so narrow, so confining?

    (P.S.: This is snark. But semi-serious. If you support “concealed carry” *gun* laws, how does that differ from “concealed-carry-of-hand-grenades” laws,” *under the Second Amendment*? My own position is that strict regulation of weapons of any kind is not only Constitutional and legal, but desirable.)

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