Ten Miles Square


July 23, 2012 12:00 PM 100-Round Magazine and the Armed Citizen

By Michael O'Hare

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.)

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.


  • T2 on July 23, 2012 1:02 PM:

    only a fool or Republican would think having several moviegoers pulling out 9's in a theatre envolved in total chaos and start firing away would make everything work out ok.
    Firstly, shooting paper targets or beer cans is different than facing down an assault weapon. And any, repeat ANY, gunfire in a chaotic crowded room is crazy.

    I say, sell all the guns you want. Make people register for bullets and cap the quantity.

  • 2Manchu on July 23, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Beta Company, who makes the most widely used 100 round magazine for 5.56mm rifles (the C-Mag), also offers one for Glock pistols.

    Someone explain to me the rationale for that one.

    And if anyone really believes that they need this kind of firepower as protection against "the government", and also believe that they can win that fight, I just have four words:

    "The American Civil War"

    Sorry, but if the Confederacy couldn't beat the federal government, what makes anyone think that they could today with a few firearms?

  • Mitch on July 23, 2012 7:06 PM:


    Man, I ask my Repug uncles that all of the time.

    They love to go on and on about how they stockpile guns just in case they need to wage war on the tyrannical government.

    My response is something like, "Good luck with that. Let's see how your hardware stands up when it's put against the modern American military. On their home turf."

    Personally, I think guys like that have just watched Red Dawn and/or Glen Beck a few too many times. Their fantasies of armed revolution are akin to those of thirteen year old boys who imagine saving the day and riding off into the sunset with the girl like a superhero.

  • David Martin on July 23, 2012 8:13 PM:

    In Florida, as best I can tell, holders of concealed weapons permits are welcome to take their guns into movie theaters and similar places, so long as they aren't on a college campus (where weapons are banned). The local hospital has signs banning firearms. I assume the hospital had their lawyer check to see whether they could do that.

  • 2Manchu on July 23, 2012 10:50 PM:


    So true. What I really find amazing is that in their minds, a "tyrannical government" is one that enacts consumer protection laws and improved healthcare for tens of millions of Americans. And all within the bounds of the US Constitution.

  • TomParmenter on July 25, 2012 9:12 AM:

    Well, yes, he had a 100-round magazine, but he had to pull the trigger 100 times to empty it.

    The military version of the rifle requires only one pull of the trigger to empty the magazine, but gun-control laws make it illegal to sell that version.