THE BLOG

Why We Must Ban High-Capacity Gun Magazines

04/06/2011 01:59 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2011

We were honored last week to join James and Sarah Brady as they marked the 30th anniversary of a tragic moment in history - the shooting of President Reagan.

James Brady, who took one of the bullets meant for the president, has since dedicated his life to preventing gun violence.

It was in his name that Congress came together to pass the Brady law to require a background check for gun purchases.

It is time for Congress to come together once again to eliminate senseless violence and save lives.

We're determined to ban high-capacity gun magazines like the one Jared Lee Loughner allegedly used in Tucson, Arizona, when he was able to fire 31 bullets in 15 seconds because he supersized his Glock 19 handgun with a high-capacity magazine.

Loughner's massacre ended only when he stopped to reload and bystanders wrestled him to the ground. If he had used a standard magazine and was forced to reload earlier, some of his victims might have been spared.

High-capacity magazines -- devices that dramatically boost a weapon's firing power -- were prohibited from 1994 until 2004, when the federal assault weapons ban was in place. Since its lapse, high-capacity magazines have become easily accessible, turning up on shelves in gun shops and even some sporting goods stores.

As a recent investigation revealed, during the last year of the ban in 2004, just 10 percent of the crime-related guns seized by Virginia police were equipped with high-capacity magazines, a 10-year low. By last year, with the ban expired, the percentage had surged to 22 percent.

The fact is, guns are used to murder more than 9,500 people in our country in a single year. By comparison, about 5,900 American troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past 10 years.

Let's take a look at how gun-related murders affect some of our closest allies.

Altogether, Japan, Germany, England, Wales and Canada are home to 305 million people, and guns kill 450 people in these countries in an average year.

Again, the United States, which is home to 307 million people, suffers 9,500 murders by gun in one year. And that doesn't even include the approximately 20,000 annual other deaths and suicides with a gun.

It's time to end the bloodshed and restore common sense to our gun laws -- beginning with a permanent ban on high-capacity gun magazines.

These deadly devices are the weapon of choice for the deranged.

In the 1993 Long Island Railroad massacre, Colin Ferguson used a high-capacity magazine to kill six people and wound 19 others.

Major Nidal Hasan, the accused shooter in the Fort Hood tragedy, was armed with several high-capacity magazines and almost 400 rounds of ammunition when he went on his 2009 rampage, killing 13 people and wounding 34 others.

The onetime gun-shop employee who sold weaponry to Hasan testified that the alleged shooter told him he preferred extended ammunition clips because "he didn't like spending time loading magazines."

In addition to the Arizona, Long Island Railroad and Fort Hood shootings, high-capacity magazines were also used in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, as well as an incident in Manchester, Connecticut, last year, when a gunman killed eight people and wounded two others.

We introduced legislation in the Senate and House last month to ban the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds at a time - just like the law that was in place until 2004.

This new legislation's goal is not to eliminate gun ownership in responsible hands; we simply want to restore a sensible safeguard that protects our families and children.

Robert Levy, a lawyer and prominent gun rights activist, has said our proposal is constitutional.

The National Rifle Association has called high-capacity magazines "standard equipment for self-defense handguns," but let's not kid ourselves: the only reason to supersize a handgun to two or three times its original bullet capacity is because you want to kill a lot of people very quickly.

In gun-friendly Washington, we need President Obama's leadership, reasonable gun laws, and policies that will save the tens of thousands of Americans who live with gun violence each year.

Even Dick Cheney is open to restoring the ban.

The former vice president, a staunch defender of gun rights, recently told NBC News with regard to restoring the high-capacity magazine ban: "We've had that in place before. Maybe it's appropriate to reestablish that kind of thing."

No one is arguing that a high-capacity magazine ban would have prevented our colleague Gabrielle Giffords from being shot -- but it might have spared the victims who were struck by bullets 11 through 31.

The bottom line: We shouldn't have to rely on innocent bystanders to protect lives when these lethal weapons are in the hands of killers.

This responsibility rests with Congress and President Obama -- and we shouldn't wait another day to get the job done.

Frank Lautenberg is a Democratic Senator from New Jersey. Carolyn McCarthy is a Democratic Congresswoman representing New York's 4th District.