In Vir­ginia, high-yield clip seizures rise



The num­ber of guns with high­ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines seized by Vir­ginia po­lice dropped dur­ing a decade-long fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion on as­sault weapons, but the rate has re­bounded sharply since the ban was lifted in late 2004, ac­cord­ing to a Washington Post anal­y­sis.

More than 15,000 guns equipped with high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines — de­fined un­der the lapsed fed­eral law as hold­ing 11 or more bul­lets — have been seized by Vir­ginia po­lice in a wide range of in­ves­ti­ga­tions since 1993, the data show.

The role of high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines in gun crime was thrust into the na­tional spot­light two weeks ago when 22-year-old Jared Lee Lough­ner al­legedly opened fire with a semiau­to­matic hand­gun out­side a Tuc­son gro­cery store, killing six and wound­ing 13, in­clud­ing Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords (D-Ariz.). Au­thor­i­ties say Lough­ner used a legally pur­chased 9mm Glock 19 hand­gun with a 31-round clip and was tack­led while chang­ing mag­a­zines.

Of the seized Vir­ginia weapons, 2,000 had mag­a­zines with a ca­pac­ity of 30 or more bul­lets. Some states, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia and Mary­land, still limit mag­a­zine ca­pac­ity to 10 rounds.

Last year in Vir­ginia, guns with high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines amounted to 22 per­cent of the weapons re­cov­ered and re­ported by po­lice. In 2004, when the ban ex­pired, the rate had reached a low of 10 per­cent. In each year since then, the rate has gone up.

“Maybe the fed­eral ban was fi­nally start­ing to make a dent in the mar­ket by the time it ended,” said Christo­pher Koper, head of re­search at the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum, who stud­ied the

as­sault weapons ban for the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice, the re­search arm of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Congress is con­sid­er­ing leg­is­la­tion to re­in­sti­tute the as­sault weapon ban’s pro­hi­bi­tion on high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines, a mea­sure strongly op­posed by gun rights ad­vo­cates.

The anal­y­sis of the Vir­ginia records, ob­tained un­der the state’s pub­lic in­for­ma­tion law, pro­vides a rare win­dow into the fire­power of guns used in crimes. The Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives, which traces guns for lo­cal po­lice agen­cies and regu-guns

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.) and 57 other Democrats pro­posed leg­is­la­tion last week to ban the sale or trans­fer of high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines, no mat­ter when they were man­u­fac­tured. McCarthy’s hus­band and five oth­ers were killed in 1993 on the Long Is­land Rail Road by a gun­man armed with a semiau­to­matic pis­tol and four 15-round mag­a­zines. He fired 30 shots be­fore be­ing sub­dued while chang­ing mag­a­zines.

The bill’s prospects are con­sid­ered slim in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House. In the Se­nate, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion says it has a solid 50-sen­a­tor pro-gun block that could de­lay any leg­is­la­tion.

The NRA has an­nounced its op­po­si­tion to pro­pos­als that limit mag­a­zine ca­pac­ity.

“ These mag­a­zines are stan­dard equip­ment for self-de­fense hand­guns and other firearms owned by tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on its pol­i­tics Web page, and in a let­ter cir­cu­lat­ing to mem­bers of Congress. “Law-abid­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens choose them for many rea­sons, in­clud­ing the same rea­son po­lice of­fi­cers do: to im­prove their odds in de­fen­sive sit­u­a­tions.”

The firearms in­dus­try also op­poses the pro­posal. “ The tragedy in Tuc­son was not about firearms, am­mu­ni­tion or mag­a­zine ca­pac­ity,” said Ted Novin, a spokesman for the Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion, a gun in­dus­try group. “It was about the ac­tions of a mad­man. Pe­riod.”

The anal­y­sis by The Post is pos­si­ble be­cause of a lit­tle-known data­base of guns seized in Vir­ginia. The data­base, called the Crim­i­guns lates the firearms in­dus­try, does not track mag­a­zine sizes. Aca­demic re­searchers said they were un­aware of any other com­pre­hen­sive study of firearms mag­a­zines.

The pat­tern in Vir­ginia “may be a piv­otal piece of ev­i­dence” that the as­sault weapons ban even­tu­ally had an im­pact on the pro­lif­er­a­tion of high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines on the streets, said Garen Win­te­mute, head of the Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion Re­search Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis.

“Many peo­ple, me in­cluded, were skep­ti­cal about the chances that the mag­a­zine ban would make a dif­fer­ence back in 1994,” Win­te­mute said. “But what I am see­ing here is that af­ter a few years’ lag time the preva­lence of high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines was de­clin­ing. The in­crease since the ban’s re­peal is quite strik­ing.”

Guns with high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines have ap­peared in Vir­ginia crimes rang­ing from the mun­dane to the mur­der­ous. The Post found that 200 guns with high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines fig­ured in Vir­ginia homi­cides, in­clud­ing these in­ci­dents:

In Rich­mond in 2003, Michael An­toine Wil­son, 21, used his semiau­to­matic ri­fle with its 30-round mag­a­zine to shoot his 17year-old girl­friend to death in front of chil­dren and relatives. Then he went to a nearby con­ve­nience store, killed two work­ers and stole a van be­fore turn­ing the gun on him­self.

In Roanoke in 2004, Mar­cus Jerome Nance, 22, used his legally pur­chased 9mm Glock 17 hand­gun with a high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zine to spray 33 bul­lets into a crowd that had gath­ered out­side a Roanoke gas sta­tion af­ter a night­club clos­ing, killing one and wound­ing two.

In New­port News last year, An­to­nio John­son, 34, be­gan shoot­ing at po­lice dur­ing a traf­fic stop with a 9mm semiau­to­matic hand­gun out­fit­ted with a 15round mag­a­zine. “Sub­ject shot po­lice of­fi­cer and then killed him­self with weapon,” state records say.

In the Ari­zona shoot­ings, Lough­ner al­legedly used a Glock 19 tha the had legally pur­chased at a Tuc­son sport­ing goods store in Novem­ber. The gun’s ca­pac­ity al­lowed Lough­ner to squeeze off more than 30 shots with­out reload­ing, au­thor­i­ties said.

The fed­eral as­sault weapons ban from late 1994 through late 2004 pro­hib­ited the man­u­fac­tur­ing of mag­a­zines ca­pa­ble of hold­ing more than 10 rounds. But the act per­mit­ted the sale of mag­a­zines man­u­fac­tured be­fore the ban.

The fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion was spurred by a mass killing in 1989 in Stock­ton, Calif., where Pa­trick Ed­ward Purdy, 24, a men­tally un­bal­anced drug ad­dict, fired 110 shots from an AK-47 into a school­yard, killing five chil­dren and wound­ing 29 oth­ers and a teacher. He used a 75-round ro­tary clip and a 35-round ba­nana clip, one of four he was car­ry­ing.

New leg­isla­tive in­ter­est

A po­lice car’s dash­board cam­era recorded the jack­ham­mer sound of gun­fire. In a car parked nearby, po­lice found a Glock gun box and two boxes of am­mu­ni­tion, one of them par­tially empty.

Po­lice went to the gun shop and con­firmed that Nance had bought the hand­gun ($555), a laser sight ($380) and two ex­tended mag­a­zines ($135), pay­ing cash in an en­tirely le­gal trans­ac­tion. Po­lice noted: “ The mag­a­zines in ques­tion were man­u­fac­tured be­fore 1994 and not con­sid­ered pro­hib­ited.”

Nance, who said he had been at­tacked by mem­bers of the crowd and shot in self-de­fense, was con­victed of sec­ond-de­gree murder and is in prison.

The 2004 study

Koper’s 108-page 2004 study for the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice found the ban on as­sault weapons had mixed re­sults.

“As­sault weapons were rarely used in gun crimes even be­fore the ban,” he said in the re­port. But he also con­cluded that the pro­hi­bi­tion on high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines might have af­fected pub­lic safety, be­cause such mag­a­zines al­low shoot­ers to in­flict more dam­age.

“ Ten­ta­tively I was able to show that guns as­so­ci­ated with large ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines tended to be as­so­ci­ated with more se­ri­ous crimes, more se­ri­ous out­comes,” he said.

Some gun rights ac­tivists ar­gue that a ban on high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines would vi­o­late the Sec­ond Amend­ment right to bear arms. One prom­i­nent gun rights ac­tivist who takes a less ab­so­lute po­si­tion is Robert A. Levy, chair­man of the Cato In­sti­tute. He is also the lawyer who brought the case that over­turned D.C.’s hand­gun ban.

But Levy said the govern­ment would need to prove that such a ban was ef­fec­tive.

“ The bur­den is on the govern­ment, not on the in­di­vid­ual to show that the reg­u­la­tion isn’t un­duly in­tru­sive,” Levy said.

Colin God­dard, a lob­by­ist for the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence and a vic­tim of the 2007 Vir­gini­aTech shoot­ings, said the high-ca­pac­ity ban could save lives. The Vir­ginia Tech shooter, Se­ung Hui Cho, used sev­eral 15round mag­a­zines to fire 174 shots and kill 32 peo­ple in the worst gun-re­lated mass murder by an in­di­vid­ual inU.S. his­tory.

“When you dou­ble and triple the amount of the clip size, you don’t dou­ble or triple the num­ber of deer you kill, you dou­ble and triple the amount of in­no­cent peo­ple who are killed in shoot­ings like this,” said God­dard, 25, who was shot four times by Cho.

Bradley A. Buck­les, ATF di­rec­tor from 1999 to 2004, said bureau of­fi­cials ad­vised Congress to fo­cus on high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines, which were “com­pletely un­reg­u­lated” and had al­most no sport­ing pur­pose.

“ The whole thing with mag­a­zine ca­pac­ity came out of ATF,” Buck­les said. “It wasn’t so much guns, but it was fire­power. What made them more deadly than a hunt­ing ri­fle was the fact that you could have a 20-round, 30-round clip, when most hunt­ing ri­fles wouldn’t have more than five rounds.”

Buck­les said law­mak­ers should have ex­tended the ban on high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines in 2004. Ban­ning them now, he said, just puts ev­ery­one back at square one.

“ There are so many mil­lions of them out there, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t make any im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence over the course of 20 years,” Buck­les said. “It is not a short-term so­lu­tion to any­thing.” nal Firearms Clear­ing­house, has in­for­ma­tion on more than 100,000 firearms re­cov­ered by more than 200 lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments since 1993. A fed­eral law in 2003, known as the Ti­ahrt Amend­ment af­ter the con­gress­man who spon­sored it, banned the re­lease of fed­eral data on guns re­cov­ered in crimes.

Last year, The Post mined the data­base to pierce the se­crecy im­posed by Congress on fed­eral gun trac­ing records. The anal­y­sis found that a frac­tion of li­censed deal­ers in Vir­ginia sell most of guns later seized by po­lice. The vast ma­jor­ity of the guns in the data­base were con­fis­cated be­cause of il­le­gal-pos­ses­sion charges. But thou­sands were swept up in the wake of as­saults, rob­beries and shoot­ings.

Two months be­fore the ban ex­pired in Septem­ber 2004, Mar­cus Nance bought an ex­tended mag­a­zine and a 9mm Glock 17 hand­gun at a Roanoke gun store. Three nights later, down the street from the store, Nance opened fire on a crowded park­ing lot af­ter ar­gu­ing and fight­ing with peo­ple in the crowd.

Apo­lice of­fi­cer called to in­ves­ti­gate a dis­tur­bance heard shots and saw Nance hold­ing a gun at arm’s length and fir­ing “ran­domly into the mass of peo­ple” be­fore shoot­ing sev­eral rounds into the air.


A ven­dor dis­plays ri­fles and mag­a­zines at a gun show in Las Ve­gas.

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