Responding to concerns arising from the Jonesboro, Ark., killings, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a group of Democratic and Republican legislators will file a bill today that would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and plug a major loophole in the federal assault weapons law.
The U.S. Senate bill would prohibit the distribution, importation or manufacture of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) will file a companion bill in the House.
Such a law would outlaw the sale of the type of magazine used in last week's shootings in Arkansas, where four girls and a teacher died in a schoolyard ambush, Feinstein said Monday.
Feinstein and DeGette said local and state authorities in Arkansas have confirmed that most of the 24 bullets allegedly fired by two boys came from a 15-round magazine and a .30-caliber firearm based on the M-1 carbine.
Feinstein said the two suspects--ages 11 and 13--also had two 30-round magazines, but did not use them.
"The tragic shooting in Jonesboro last week is a horrifying example of why high-capacity ammunition clips were designed for military combat, not for recognized sport," Feinstein said.
DeGette agreed, adding: "No one thinks this would have prevented Jonesboro . . . but it will stop people who are angry or emotionally disturbed from legally buying them."
The bills are sure to face strong opposition from the gun lobby.
"Industrywide, we are not going to sit still for such a bill," said Jack Adkins, a spokesman for the American Shooting Sports Council in Atlanta.
If passed, proponents say, the legislation would close one of the biggest loopholes in the 1994 federal assault weapons law.
That landmark legislation, which Feinstein wrote, restricted possession of assault weapons, specifically those that accept a detachable ammunition magazine and have at least two military features such as a pistol grip or bayonet mount.
One key provision banned manufacture and distribution of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds and were manufactured after September 1994. But the legislation did not apply to magazines made before that date or to foreign-made magazines.
In a series of stories last fall, The Times reported that manufacturers stockpiled millions of high-capacity magazines just before the law went into effect. At the same time, importers continued bringing thousands more into the country--including at least 160,000 between June 1996 and April 1997.
As a result, gun makers have continued making thousands of weapons that are similar to illegal assault guns and can accept high-capacity magazines that were made before the 1994.
The new bill would amend the existing law to ban further manufacture or importation of the magazines. People could keep what they already own, but owners would be forbidden to sell them or give them away.
DeGette said such a law might have prevented the death of a Denver police officer who was ambushed last year by a group of skinheads using a Chinese-made SKS assault rifle equipped with an American-made 30-round magazine.
"He was shot 15 times," she said.
Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Assn., denounced Feinstein's timing.
"This should be a time for mourning and grieving, and not a time to make political hay out of this tragedy," he said.
Calling the bill unenforceable, LaPierre said: "She might as well ban sheet metal and springs because that's all a magazine is made of.
"What would make a bigger impact on problems like what happened in Jonesboro is for Sen. Feinstein to talk to the entertainment industry in her backyard about stopping the showing of gratuitous violence without consequences.
"That's what people in stores, gas stations and shopping malls all over the country are saying about Jonesboro," he said. "No one has said 'Gee, we need another magazine ban.' "
The co-sponsors of the bill include Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Robert Toricelli and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Richard Durbin of Illinois.
In the House, co-sponsors include Democrats Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts, Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, Ed Towns of New York, Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Republicans Connie Morella of Maryland and Christopher Shays of Connecticut.