Count me among the many gun owners who don’t think President Obama is infringing on our Second Amendment rights by proposing a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Since the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have been thinking about guns and my grandfather. There were always guns in my grandfather’s house, and there are guns in my house.
I grew up around guns. My grandfather was a hunter, and I am a hunter. Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are of walking with him in an Iowa corn field during pheasant season, sitting next to him in a duck blind on the Missouri flyway, and the two of us watching a rising covey of quail in the northwest timber pasture.
Guns always had rules. I remember my first BB gun being taken away when I was caught pointing it at something I shouldn’t. When I was a little older, I was allowed to carry a single shot .22 rifle while I followed alongside my grandfather in the field. However, I was not allowed to carry ammunition. I had to first learn to be aware of where my gun was pointed.
“A man who doesn’t pay attention to the muzzle of his gun doesn’t pay attention to anything,” my grandfather would say. Once I was caught pointing my .22 at a barn. “The gun’s empty,” I protested when reprimanded. “Every gun-accident story I’ve ever heard involved ‘an empty gun,’ ” my grandfather would say.
My first shotgun was a semiautomatic 20 gauge. It didn’t take me long to find and remove the wooden plug in the magazine that limited the ammunition capacity to three shells. I knew the plug was required by federal law for duck hunting, but in my young mind, I reasoned, “I’m not duck hunting, what’s the point of keeping my shells in my pocket, when I can carry them in my gun?” Actors in my favorite westerns and war movies always had plenty of ammunition in their guns. Besides, I had a “real” gun now, like the men I hunted with, and I was making up for all those days carrying a gun with no shells.
The first time my grandfather watched me feed five shells into my gun, he looked at me soberly and said, “Nobody needs more than three shells. If you miss with the first two, you’re probably going to miss with the third.”
He told me the story of his Auto-5, and how its inventor, John Browning, became concerned that the gun would be banned because of its five-shot capacity. A compromise was reached to accommodate federal law: Shotguns with five shot-magazines could be used for waterfowl hunting, but that wooden plug had to be placed in the magazine to reduce the capacity to three shells.
Last month, when the shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, he was not carrying a five-round Browning shotgun. He entered that school with a .223 Bushmaster rifle. This gun is designed to hold a lot of ammunition, to fire that ammunition rapidly, and to be reloaded quickly. The feature that makes this gun so lethal is its high-capacity “quick change” magazine.
The shooter’s gun had a box magazine that held 30 rounds. When empty, the entire magazine could be ejected, and another slammed into position in seconds. The only difference between this gun and a military weapon is the removal of the fully automatic functionality that allows for continuous firing as long as the trigger is held back.
Guns like the Bushmaster are designed for one thing: rapid fire, with minimal time needed to reload. It is true that the shooter could have killed children at Sandy Hook with a five-shot deer rifle and a pocketful of extra cartridges, but it would have taken him more time to shoot and more time to reload. In that time, fewer children might have died. Mr. Obama’s proposal to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds could make a difference in a future tragedy.
There are those who would take every gun away from every civilian. There are those who believe they should be allowed to own any kind of weapon they want.
Between these views is a duck blind in the cool quiet gray at dawn. I can hear the whistle of a flight of mallards as they swing past. This is a place where two or three shells in a shotgun are all you need. I know what my grandfather would say about big magazines and guns that use them.
[Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly identified the manufacturer of the .223 Bushmaster rifle.]
Kirk R. Wythers is a long-time hunter and gun owner living in St. Paul, Minn.