Thursday, July 26, 2012


High Capacity Magazines

In the modern box magazine, in nearly every semi-automatic pistol, it is spring tension that lifts the row or rows of cartridges (or rounds) up to the bolt for automatic reloading as the action opens, ejects the spent cartridge and cocks the hammer on the out slide (powered by the force of the expanding gas from the powder's explosion or rather very rapid burning). It is the return trip of the slide or bolt which catches a bit of the top round in the stack and rams it into the chamber ready to fire. The return trip is also spring powered. The very first successful semi-auto pistols (the Borchardt C 93, Browning M1900, C-96 Mauser and the P-08 Luger) all used springs to push up the cartridges. Except for the Webley-Fosbery I can't think of a single successful pistol design that doesn't rely on a spring or springs to help feed the rounds. [I'm an idiot--even the Webley Fosbery uses a spring to make it work; it just doesn't have a magaziine because it's an automatic revolver].

Springs are ancient technology. They have limitations. They can't push up, say, a stack of a thousand rounds. You could never load that many because the spring tension necessary to push up that weight would prevent you from pushing down the spring even to get started. 7 to 20 is the general range of rounds in a pistol box magazine; 30 is the reliable top end of rifle magazines. You can go higher than that, but the magazines become ever more unreliable with more rounds to push up, and the length of any longer magazine itself make the pistol and even a rifle unwieldy.

In drum magazines, they solve the spring problem by opening up the drum, putting the rounds in as a cluster, then closing it up and winding up the spring like a clock to push the rounds towards the loading port at the top. We've seen these round drums in the Thompson, Suomi and PPsh 41. I've not heard of any inherent unreliability in the drums, but pushing the weight of up to 100 rounds taxes the mechanical stability of any spring powered feed. I'm declaring that they tend to jam too often (as if I had ever fired one). I will note that Americans went to WWII with the Thompson only using thin stick magazines and not drums. Was that a matter of reliability? The Russians do not use round drum magazines in any of their modern weapons.

There's no real need for a drum magazine that holds 50 to 100 rounds when you can carry four 30 round, very reliable box magazines and reload in a matter of seconds (like 3 to 5 seconds). Still it's fun sometimes to just keep firing and firing. There is a modern 100 round drum magazine for our  M-4 carbine and other rifles, called the Beta C-Mag, which is really two 50 round drums with a common feed port. Even when the 100 round is reduced to twin 50 round drums, it's still not popular with our soldiers who have apparently declared it unreliable.

Here's a video of how fast an assault rifle can be re-loaded. These appear to be different sized magazines. I don't think it would be any slower for all 30s. So baning anything that holds more than 10 rounds (something the 10 year assault rifle/ high capacity magazine legislation did not do), would conceivably cause a mass murderer to have to reload more often, but would it realistically cause a time when he could be rushed and overpowered? I couldn't reach the guy in the film clip. Jet Li couldn't either.

There's also the suicide magazine change out. And, last but not least, my favorite scene from Heat.
They keep up a pretty steady stream of fire using 30 round magazines (I know it's just a movie).

So, is there a solution to mass murders in legislating a ban of high capacity magazines (which would no doubt be ignored by someone depraved and lawless enough to want to kill dozens of people)?


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