“Unquestionably in Common Use Today” – Study Confirms National Standard for Detachable Magazine Capacity is Over Ten Rounds

Gun Rights

Along with “assault weapon” bans, so-called “high capacity” magazine restrictions are a cornerstone of modern gun control. These terms rely on distorted and alarmist labels to describe standard features or equipment, and seek to portray these as unusual or unusually dangerous. “Large capacity magazines” or “high-capacity ammunition feeding devices” are not precise definitions, but usually rest on an arbitrary limit of able to hold more than ten cartridges.

Judge Roger T. Benitez, in a pre-Bruen case involving a challenge to California’s law banning “large capacity magazines” (LCMs), explained that such bans are inconsistent with the Second Amendment. “The United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller established a simple Second Amendment test: The right to keep and bear arms is a right enjoyed by law-abiding citizens to have arms that are not unusual ‘in common use’ ‘for lawful purposes like self-defense.’…  It is a hardware test. Is the firearm hardware commonly owned? Is the hardware commonly owned by law-abiding citizens? Is the hardware owned by those citizens for lawful purposes? If the answers are ‘yes,’ the test is over. The hardware is protected.”

The same message was repeated in the later NYSRPA v. Bruen decision, where the U.S. Supreme Court quoted Heller that “the Second Amendment protects the possession and use of weapons that are ‘in common use,’” and that what matters under the historical tradition of firearm regulation is whether the arms are “unquestionably in common use today.”

Nonetheless, gun control advocates like Everytown continue to press for bans on standard, ordinary magazines that hold more than ten rounds alleging, among other things, that these are not “arms” that the Second Amendment protects because they are not in common use and not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes like self-defense.

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Anti-gun advocates may have run out of evidentiary road on the claim that magazines able to hold more than ten rounds are not constitutionally protected. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has released a comprehensive Detachable Magazine Report, 1990-2021 that unequivocally debunks their claims. This study analyzes manufacturer and sales data on magazines and magazine capacity over an extended period of time starting in 1991 (“[n]o reliable data exists prior to 1990 to estimate historic detachable magazines that may still be available for sale or in working condition”). 

The NSSF study concludes that the “national standard for magazine capacity for America’s gun owners is greater than 10 rounds.” Among the other significant findings are:

  • Overall, almost a billion (963 million) magazines “were produced and entered the commercial market between 1990 and 2021.” The study “does not claim all the magazines estimated in [it] are owned by Americans; these are both magazines estimated to be in circulation and made available for sale at some point from 1990 to 2021;”
  • The overwhelming majority of these – approximately 74 percent, or 717 million magazines – have a capacity of eleven or more rounds, and almost half (about 46 percent) “are rifle magazines with 30+ round capacity.” More than half (about 55 percent) of total pistol magazines are detachable 11+ magazines. If the 717 million total was applied exclusively to Americans, it works out to over two “LCMs” per person based on the U.S. population in 2022, 333.3 million;
  • Comparing magazines that ship or “come in the box” with the firearm, and “aftermarket” sales (e.g., magazines distributed to the consumer market for firearms that have already been sold), the report found that 29 percent of the magazines in the study originated from detachable magazines provided “in the box” with a newly manufactured firearm, while 71 percent were an “aftermarket” product;
  • The estimated number of pistol and rifle magazines in circulation with a capacity of 10 rounds or less is just 245,872,000;
  • “The consumer market totals of rifle magazines show 30+ capacity magazines, over 413 million, are over thirty times the amount available than 10 and below capacity rifle magazines, about 13 million”; and
  • Over 40 percent (43.3 percent) of firearm owners overall reported owning a detachable magazine with a capacity of 11 or more rounds. More generally, these “findings indicate that approximately 8.9 percent of the U.S. population owns a magazine holding 11 or more rounds.”

As the study notes, “legislation outlawing or granting access to these magazines may change overall market proportions but the preference to have more ammunition available is clear.”

Based on these figures, an American gun owner is much more likely to own a magazine capable of holding eleven or more rounds than one that holds ten or less. Not only are such magazines ubiquitous and unquestionably in “common use” by tens of millions of Americans, continuing to describe such devices as “high capacity” or “large capacity” suggests, quite wrongly, that they are other than ordinary or somehow stretch capacity beyond what is intended by manufacturers. Moreover, far from being highly unusual or unusually dangerous, the overwhelming majority of such magazines are owned by citizens who use them for lawful pursuits like hunting, recreational shooting, and self-defense.

In short, in a country where close to ten percent of the population owns a magazine holding eleven or more rounds (and where such magazines potentially outnumber magazines of ten rounds or less by almost three to one), the notion that these magazines are not commonly in use and not typically possessed by ordinary citizens is ludicrous. To borrow the language of a federal appeals court from almost 15 years ago, “[t]here may well be some capacity above which magazines are not in common use but, … in any event, that capacity surely is not ten.”

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