Imagine the following world, which it's within our power to create: It's illegal to sell or possess a firearm--rifle or pistol--that can hold
more than six bullets. And it's illegal to sell or possess a firearm with a detachable magazine. In other words, once a shooter exhausted the six rounds,
he couldn't just snap in another six-round magazine; he'd have to put six more bullets in the gun one by one.
In this world, a significant number of those 20 Newtown first graders would almost certainly be alive. Lanza reportedly fired six bullets from his
AR-15 just to get inside the locked school. So, in the alternative universe I just described, he would then have to more or less exhaust one of his two
pistols to kill the principal and school psychologist he encountered after entering. At that point, as he headed for the classrooms, he'd have six more
rapid-fire bullets left, after which he'd have to reload his guns bullet by bullet.
Is there a single legitimate use of firearms that requires more than six rounds of continuous fire? Certainly not hunting. And not any sort of self-defense
that's realistically imaginable, unless you've recently antagonized a Mexican drug cartel.
As the gun lobby gears up to battle proposals such as this one, you'll hear a lot about the fact that mass killings are actually a drop in the bucket of
total homicides. True. But mass killings take a disproportionate toll on the nation psychologically and spiritually. Thirty individual people dying in
isolated assaults in various cities is a horrible thing, but it doesn't terrify our children, and it doesn't turn our schools into bunkers.
The sort of law I'm describing would make lots of current guns illegal. (I actually own one.) So you'd have to phase the law in over a couple of years,
and, to overcome political resistance, you might have to compensate gun owners for surrendering newly illegal guns--or for having them altered to comply
with the law. And, even then, the resistance would be very, very strong. It might even turn out to be insurmountable. But if the question is "What could we
do that would greatly reduce the scale of mass killings while preserving the right of Americans to use firearms for legitimate purposes," this, it
seems to me, is a real answer.
[Update, 12/17 4:25 p.m.: More than one commenter has noted that most handguns currently manufactured would be illegal under my proposal. True.
(As I noted in the final paragraph, I own such a gun.) And on Twitter, @drgitlin has noted something I didn't realize: A revolver, which would be clearly
legal under my proposal, can be loaded fairly quickly with a "speedloader." Well, if speedloaders
are indeed so speedy that they're the functional equivalent of detachable magazines, they could be banned. And as for the fact that most or all
non-revolver pistols would be illegal under my proposal: You'd be surprised how fast gun manufacturers would fill this void by designing semi-automatics
that could hold a maximum of six bullets and could only be loaded one bullet at a time. I'm not saying this makes my proposal politically feasible; the
number of existing owners of conventional semi-automatic pistols (i.e. semi-automatics with detachable magazines) might create insurmountable resistance to
it, as I noted in the final paragraph. Still, governments do have the power to ban things that exist, and in this case creating substitutes that complied
with the new law would be very doable. And, even if banning detachable magazines in pistols does prove politically infeasible, that doesn't mean we can't
make real progress by doing the politically easier thing of banning all magazines, for both rifles and handguns, that hold more than six bullets. And it's
a trivial matter for manufacturers to create magazines that would fit existing guns and comply with that law. In any event, we shouldn't be fooled into
thinking that another ban on "assault weapons" is by itself significant progress.]