An increasing number of lawmakers in both parties appear willing to compromise on high-capacity magazines, the one component of gun control legislation that seems palatable to Republicans who view a full ban on assault weapons as politically toxic.
The New York Times reports that there appears to be some willingness on both sides to limit the type of magazines that can hold 15 and 30 rounds that have been used in mass shootings like those in Newtown, Conn.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Aurora, Colo.
Lawmaker told the newspaper they see a distinct difference between limits on magazine sizes and a full ban, which would not gain enough support.
“I see them as separate,” said Sen. Angus King Jr., an independent from Maine. “It’s the difference between appearance and functionality. High-capacity magazines have contributed to a lot of these tragedies.”
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader who has been a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA), remains staunchly opposed to an assault weapons ban. But even he has indicated a willingness to limit magazine sizes for civilian gun owners.
“I think it is something we ought to discuss,” he said.
Constitutional lawyers and some conservatives generally believe that limiting magazine size falls within the boundaries of recent Supreme Court decisions on gun rights.
Evidence suggests that a ban on magazine size would indeed reduce the number of those killed in mass shootings, largely because of the difficulty in changing clips, particularly among amateur gun users.
Senate Democrats up for re-election in states that generally support gun rights are among those most concerned, however. They worry the limits would erode the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“I’m ready to step off the status quo on guns,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va. “But I’ve got to work this one through in my mind.”
In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, some 63 percent of respondents said they would favor a ban on high-capacity magazines, while 34 percent opposed the idea.
The NRA has staunchly opposed a ban on weapons, arguing that it would have no effect on gun violence.
“If you prioritize things in terms of their value and likelihood of them getting passed,” said James Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, “I don’t think there is anyone who will tell you that background checks aren’t the most important thing to get done.”
Those in law enforcement have argued that combining background checks and penalties for straw-purchases would do much to reduce the criminal use of guns.
President Barack Obama has called for a limit of 10 rounds. However, many gun-rights activists argue that standards would limit too many weapons.
“We have to consider the millions of weapons out there that will be rendered useless,” said Robert A. Levy, a lawyer who was a principal architect of the victorious strategy in the 2008 Supreme Court decision that upheld the rights of residents in the District of Columbia to bear arms.
Levy supports a ban on magazines with over 20 rounds, which he said “would rule out very few weapons.”
Whatever course is taken, it appears a limit on rounds would have to be a bill separate from the assault weapons ban if it stands a chance to pass.
Colorado House Democrats Monday passed new ammunition limits and expanded background checks as part of a package of bills responding to recent mass shootings.
The Democratic-led House voted to ban large-capacity magazines, placing a limit of 15 rounds for firearms and eight for shotguns. Lawmakers also passed a requirement for background checks on firearm sales between private parties.
The debate on the measures has attracted attention from the White House.
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