A federal appeals court struggled during oral arguments Monday to figure out whether Rhode Island’s ban on gun magazines with more than 10 rounds is constitutional — a question that could imperil 13 other state laws that restrict such devices. A lower court denied an injunction against Rhode Island’s ban on the grounds that magazines aren’t “arms” under the Second Amendment. “I struggle with the notion” that magazines aren’t arms, said First U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce Selya. “The firearm isn’t operable otherwise. So I don’t understand why a magazine isn’t an essential component of a firearm and thus a firearm.” Judge Gustavo Gelpí said that even if the law is upheld, Rhode Islanders can still legally defend themselves by carrying 15 guns with 10-round magazines each. “My experience is you can take them out and put them in very quickly,” he said, reports Courthouse News Service. “And you can shoot one gun and have another in the other hand if you’re ambidextrous like in a cowboy movie.”
Rhode Island’s ban was designed to reduce mass-shooting fatalities. Large-capacity magazines (LCMs), are associated with mass shootings because they allow a shooter to fire many rounds without stopping to reload — since 1990, 78% of high-fatality mass shootings in the U.S. have involved LCMs, and since 2010 the figure is 86%. In the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history, the shooter used very high-capacity magazines and was able to fire 100 rounds in less than 11 seconds. By contrast, at the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings, nine children were able to flee and two were able to hide when the shooter had to stop and reload. The LCM issue is significant because limiting magazine size is one of the few methods of reducing mass-shooting fatalities for which there is evidence of its effectiveness. Although the sample size is limited, a study in Criminology and Public Policy found that states with LCM bans had 48% fewer mass-shooting incidents and 33% fewer fatalities. A separate study in the American Journal of Public Health found that states without a ban on LCMs had more than twice as many mass shootings. LCMs were banned by federal law from 1994 to 2004. Since then, statewide bans have been adopted in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia.