The Corner

CT Considers Confiscating ‘Large Capacity’ Magazines

Today, a Connecticut bill banning “large capacity” magazines will have its first public hearing. Six other states have such bans in effect, though no state has demonstrated its ban has had any effect on crime.

The states disagree on what constitutes “large capacity”: 10 rounds in California, 15 in New Jersey, 20 in Maryland. Connecticut says 10 rounds; its definition of “large capacity” magazines is copied almost word for word from California law. But there is no reason outside bureaucratic whim for one definition over another. People who have such magazines haven’t necessarily gone out to buy them specially — a compact 9mm pistol might come with a 13-round magazine as standard. Anyway, the concept of a “large capacity” magazine is meaningless: capacity depends on the size of the cartridge — a larger caliber means fewer rounds.

This is a typical example of legislators making rules concerning a subject about which they know nothing.

The California law also has something that Connecticut’s version lacks: a grandfather clause. Anyone in California who had a large capacity magazine prior to the law’s enactment was permitted to keep it. And since there is no way to determine when most magazines were made or who bought them, the grandfather clause renders the magazine ban unenforceable. Anyone bent on obtaining such a magazine can still drive to a neighboring state, buy it there, and claim he had it all along.

Connecticut’s bill is worse than unenforceable; it is unconstitutional. Perhaps realizing that a grandfather clause would make the ban worthless, CT legislators stipulate that anyone who owns large-capacity magazines will have 90 days to turn them over to the government, without compensation, so the magazines can be destroyed. Citizens who fail to hand in their magazines will be guilty of a class D felony. This will almost certainly prompt legal challenges to the government’s authority to confiscate private property.

Even if this bill were to become law as currently written, it is not clear how its authors hope to make it work. The bill implies that any gun owner who has large capacity magazines is a potential murderer who can’t be trusted not to use his magazines to butcher innocent people. But why, then, can we trust him to surrender those magazines just because the government says so? It’s a rare criminal who’d be willing to commit murder but won’t risk a class D felony.

A magazine ban, of course, is another incremental step on the road to a complete ban. It is obvious that the men who propose and support this bill would rather that people couldn’t have guns at all. But the right to bear arms is guaranteed by both the U.S. Constitution and Connecticut’s state constitution. This may leave Connecticut lawmakers wishing they didn’t have to work in a state — or a country — where government power is so terribly limited.

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