Cheney and Other Unlikely Voices Push To Revisit High-Capacity Magazine Restrictions

January 21, 2011 1:36 pm ET — Chris Brown

As Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (NY) prepares to introduce legislation to ban high-capacity magazines such as the one that Jared Loughner used in his attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), she is finding some very unexpected support. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Fox News contributor Bill Kristol and Cato Institute scholar Robert Levy have all suggested revisiting assault weapons restrictions such as the high capacity magazine ban. 

Jared Loughner used a high-capacity magazine that enabled him to fire 31 bullets. Only then, as he attempted to reload, was he tackled. The sale of high-capacity magazines was illegal under the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Robert Levy, who organized and financed the successful legal challenge to the District of Columbia's gun laws in District of Columbia v. Heller, addressed the constitutionality and wisdom of restrictions in the wake of the shooting. As reported by NBC's Michael Isikoff:

A leading gun-rights advocate says there is no constitutional barrier to restricting the sale of high capacity gun magazines such as the one used by accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner and that such proposals are justified to prevent "looney tunes" from committing more gun massacres.

Robert A. Levy, who served as co-counsel in the landmark Supreme Court case that established a Second Amendment right to bear arms, said there was no reason the court's decision in that case should apply to the purchase of high-capacity gun magazines.

"I don't see any constitutional bar to regulating high-capacity magazines," Levy said in an interview with NBC. "Justice [Antonin] Scalia made it quite clear some regulations are permitted. The Second Amendment is not absolute."

Both Cheney's and Lugar's openness to new restrictions surprised many, as Cheney has a long history of advocating NRA-friendly gun policy positions and Lugar is widely expected to face a Tea Party-backed primary challenge during the coming election cycle. 

The National Rifle Association's candidate questionnaire claims that assault weapons restrictions are "based largely on cosmetic features of the guns" and clearly indicates the organization's opposition to such restrictions. The NRA has also denied the well documented and extensive role of high-capacity magazines in multiple shooting crimes. The NRA's position is significantly out of line with the American public, as demonstrated by recent polling that showed 63 percent of Americans and 58 percent of households that own guns support banning high-capacity magazines. Only 13 percent of Americans said they wanted the less restrictive guns laws that the NRA routinely campaigns for around the country. 

UPDATE: Reporting from the gun industry trade show and conference SHOT Show, ThinkProgress found many participants skeptical of the value of high-capacity magazines for self defense purposes: