Firearms Myth #8: “High Capacity Magazines” Need to Be Banned (Part I)

Clear AR 15 magequal sign AR 15 round drum  question mark

Starting around 2012, there have been major attacks on “high capacity magazines” . Citizens and politicians alike have been calling for these ambiguously mentioned “high capacity magazines” to be banned.  First of all, what is the definition of “high capacity”? Is it anything above 10 rounds, as is the magazine capacity limit in California? Is it 21 rounds, like in many other parts of he country?

30 round mag ban

The way the government has gone about this so far is a “one-size-fits-all” solution to a more complex problem. The issue with states such as California banning magazines ha have a capacity of more than 10 rounds for all guns is that it does not take into account the difference in function and purpose for every type of firearm. My last post on all guns not being equal shows some of the distinctions between certain types of firearms.

diminishing marginal product

That being said, firearms are designed for maximum efficiency of their purpose. We can use economics to show why most magazines that are said to be “high capacity” are actually standard capacity. Take a well known favorite, the AR-15 for example. Many politicians and media personnel claim that it has a “high capacity magazine” that needs to be banned. The Ar-15 holds 30 rounds, which would be considered high capacity for a handgun or shotgun, but not for a semi-automatic rifle. The purpose of the 5.56 x 45 NATO (or the .223 Remington depending on the specific model) round that AR-15’s are chambered in is designed for light recoil, medium range shooting with decent penetration. This makes the 5.56 x 45 NATO round smaller and lighter than most rifle cartridges, which means that a magazine fitted for it can hold more rounds in less space than another type of rifle magazine. Gun manufacturers look to maximize the efficient point between weight load and bullet output when they design guns because otherwise, the gun has potential to be more efficient. If you look at diminishing marginal product in microeconomics, you can compare increasing the input of workers to the added weight and volume of each bullet, and the additional output of products to the additional amount of bullets that can be fired without reloading. If you increase the number of workers at a factory, to a certain point you will increase the number of products you produce, but the more workers you add will mean that each additional worker will be less efficient. Thus, each additional worker will be producing less and less until production output is lower than if you had less workers. This is because as you add more workers, ceteris parabus, workers will start getting in the way of one another, will have to start sharing supplies, and would be wasting time waiting to do things instead of actually working. This will lower the output of production compared to if you had less workers who can do their job smoothly. For the example of the AR-15, increasing the number and thus the weight and volume of cartridges, will increase the output of bullets being able to be fired with ought changing magazines. However, that weight and volume have the negative affects of less stability while aiming, less maneuverability, slower target acquisition, and increased loss of stamina, just to name a few. So, to be efficient, gun manufacturers must make the capacity of the magazine to the point where the costs of weight and volume are equal to the benefits of firing more bullets without reloading. For the AR-15, that equilibrium happens to be at 30 rounds. That is the capacity that the AR-15 was designed with, and is the industry standard for that firearm, and similar ones chambered in the 5.56 x 45 NATO round. Therefore, high capacity, in most cases for the AR-15 would be any that hold more than 30 rounds.

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