The debate over whether New Jersey should ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds appears to come down to whether one believes that the smaller clips will deter mass shooters or hinder citizens using guns in self-defense.
Supporters of the ban, including groups like Heeding God’s Call and Ceasefire NJ, say that it would force shooters to pause and reload, creating opportunities for potential victims to escape or for law-enforcement or others to apprehend a gunman.
Critics of the bill, however, called the bill’s 10-round maximum “arbitrary” and said it would leave legal gun owners at a disadvantage when forced to defend themselves.
The bill, A-2006, was approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Thursday by a 5-3 vote. It would ban the sale of ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, reducing New Jersey’s current 15-round limit on ammunition clips. Magazines or ammunition clips are defined as boxes, drums, tubes or other containers that can be fed continuously into a semi-automatic weapon.
The vote broke down along party lines, with Democrats supporting the bill. It is expected to pass the Assembly, though a vote has not been scheduled. It is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald (Camden), Annette Quijano (Union), Tim Eustace (Bergen), Gordon Johnson (Bergen) and Mila Jasey (Essex).
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has announced his support for the legislation. He opposed a similar bill in 2013. That bill, A-1329, passed the Assembly but was never heard by committee in the Senate. Sweeney said at the time that he opposed the bill, calling it ineffective and saying it offered “false hope.” He announced at a February press conference that he had changed his mind after meeting with families of the 2012 Sandy Hook, CT, mass shooting.
Gov. Chris Christie’s office did not respond to requests for comments on the Assembly bill. The governor has signed 13 gun-safety bills within the last year, while vetoing several others including a ban on .50-caliber weapons and a background check bill that Sweeney described as the centerpiece of the Legislature’s efforts.
The vetoes came at a time when the governor was riding high in the polls and being talked about as a likely presidential candidate. But his poll numbers have taken a hit since the Bridgegate scandal broke.
Six states limit ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds: California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts and Hawaii. In addition, Colorado instituted a 15-round limit in 2013. The remaining 43 states do not limit the number of rounds that can be held by a magazine, according to a report issued in December by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign, two national gun-control groups.
That report also ranked New Jersey’s gun laws as the third-strongest in the nation and said that the state had the fifth-lowest rate of gun deaths.
Critics are quick to describe the state’s gun laws as overly punitive. Several speakers Thursday – gun advocates made up the majority of speakers – said the state is “going in the wrong direction” and that the rights of legal gun owners are being abridged.
“I am a New Jersey teacher and a military veteran,” said Paul Sniffen of Monmouth County. “I am licensed to carry in 45 states. New Jersey has to get in line with the other 45 states that adhere to the Second Amendment.”
Tina Marie Diliberto, also of Monmouth County, said the bill would undercut the safety of New Jersey residents. She called magazine bans “completely arbitrary” and asked members of the Law and Public Safety Committee what they would prefer if three armed intruders burst into their houses at 3 a.m.
“How many rounds of ammunition do you want to have in your firearm?” she asked. “I’m not sure about you, but I would feel much safer with 15 rounds of ammunition in my firearm.”
Reducing the capacity, she said, would endanger legal gun owners and others because criminals are not likely to follow the new rules. She also said she was concerned about what might happen down the road if the law were to pass and whether greater limitations might follow.
“How soon will it be until we are back here debating a bill that would reduce the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines from 10 rounds to five rounds or even just one round?”
“This bill,” she added, ”is about confiscating guns and trampling on our rights.”
Diliberto’s position dovetails with those outlined by groups like the New Jersey Second Amendment Society and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, both of which say that the state’s gun laws favor law-breakers and are arbitrary.
“The Constitutional right of self-defense is sacrosanct,” the NJARPC says on its website, “and a magazine ban directly and significantly interferes with that right.”
Supporters of the new limits say they are a reasonable response to a real danger. Greenwald, one of the sponsors, said in a press release Thursday that the new limit would “save lives, reduce gun violence, and protect our communities from senseless tragedy.”
“A 10-round limit has drawn wide support from national law-enforcement leaders because they know it is a balanced, common-sense approach that will save lives while respecting lawful gun owners’ Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Bryan Miller, of Heeding God’s Call, a gun-control group, said limiting the number of rounds that can be shot before reloading makes sense, given the empirical evidence from recent mass shootings. In cases like the 2011 Tucson shooting, which severely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado, the dynamic shifted when the shooter was forced to reload his firearms. In both cases, the crowd was able to subdue the shooter and end the carnage.
“The sooner we can get the mass shooters to change their magazines, the more likely it is to save lives,” he said.
Critics say it takes just seconds to swap cartridges, something Miller does not dispute.
“But it is time enough for people to overwhelm a shooter and it has happened repeatedly,” he said.
Nicola Bocour, project director for Ceasefire NJ, a project of the Coalition for Peace Action, said high-capacity magazines are used “again and again” in mass shootings and “more bullets mean more victims.” Limiting the number of rounds, she said, will mean reloading sooner and that means people will have the chance either to escape or stop the shooter more quickly.
“We are talking about hundreds of lives from incidents where people were present, where a gunman had extensive firepower and was only stopped when he had to reload,” she said.
While critics say that gun control advocates are likely to push for even lower limits, the 10-round figure was selected because it has been a federal standard. The federal assault weapons ban, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, set the maximum magazine size at 10 rounds and it worked, she said.
“High capacity use dropped dramatically,” she said.
In addition, she said, a 10-round clip is a common magazine size.
“Ten is a sort of a standard number for this,” he said. “Handguns usually have a 10-round magazine. It is not an unusual number and it has been shown to work.”
Bocour said the magazine ban is “an incredibly common sense bill and goes at the heart of what we can do to make people safer.”
“The major downside is simply one of inconvenience,” she said. “Saving human lives is far more important than protecting the convenience of a small few.”