Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times

In the early morning hours of Aug. 4, outside a crowded bar in Dayton, Ohio, a gunman fired at least 41 rounds in 32 seconds, striking 26 people. Nine of those victims died in the shooting.

The gunman was able to fire so many rounds so quickly because he used a 100-round magazine. That meant he didn’t have to stop firing to reload. If police hadn’t already been on the scene and able to return fire so quickly, many more almost certainly would have lost their lives.

In the aftermath, it’s once again clear that civilians shouldn’t be allowed to legally own high-capacity ammunition magazines whose only purpose is to inflict a lot of bloodshed quickly.

The primary effect of a high-capacity magazine — which is defined as a magazine holding more than 10 rounds — is more dead bodies.

Last week,the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would ban such ammunition magazines — the Keep America Safe Act — along with bills to promote so-called red flag, or extreme risk, laws, which keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and a bill that prevents those convicted of hate crimes from purchasing or owning weapons.

All of this is common-sense legislation, but I particularly want to focus on the Keep America Safe Act; it matches a provision in my latest assault weapons ban, which I introduced in the Senate in January.

The new ban would update the very effective Assault Weapons Ban I wrote in 1994, which unfortunately expired in 2004. Until we are able to pass a new assault weapons ban, we should at least begin to dry up the supply of deadly firearm accessories available to the public, starting with high-capacity magazines.

It’s no mystery why shooters frequently choose high-capacity magazines. Simply put, they result in more carnage. When a shooter has a single magazine that holds 30, 50, even 100 rounds of ammunition, it’s easy to just keep firing.

Preventing the use of high-capacity magazines is particularly important because many mass shootings are actually stopped when the shooter must pause to reload. The extra seconds for reloading can also provide victims with the chance to fight or flee.

We saw this happen when a gunman opened fire at a 2011 Tucson event for then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Bystanders were able to wrestle the shooter to the ground only after he had to pause and reload.

But it’s not enough to simply stop the sale of new high-capacity magazines. We also need to address the supply already on the street. The Keep Americans Safe Act includes another provision of my assault weapons ban that would allow federal funds to be used to buy back high-capacity magazines, providing an incentive for people to retire such magazines.

It’s true that eliminating high-capacity magazines won’t stop all shootings, nor will the other gun safety laws passed by the House last week. No legislation can accomplish that absolutely. But these laws, and especially the magazine ban, can limit the death toll without impeding anyone’s gun rights.

The full House is expected to pass the high-capacity magazine ban, the extreme-risk bill and the hate crimes bill later this month. And they’ve already passed bills to require universal background checks and close the “Charleston loophole,” which allows a gun to be purchased even if a background check isn’t completed.

Those votes reflect the will of the people. Gun safety proposals are supported by a large majority of the public. In multiple polls this year — including an NPR/PBS/Marist poll released last week — two-thirds of all Americans support banning high-capacity magazines.

Sadly, Senate Republicans refuse to allow a vote on any of these common-sense bills. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week he won’t act without direction from President Trump, and so far there has been nothing but silence from the White House.

The president and the Senate Republican leadership need to allow the high-capacity magazine ban to be debated and voted upon. The longer the Senate stalls, the more lives are put at risk.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has represented California in the Senate since 1992.