Hunting and high-capacity magazines

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Deer roaming in through the woods of Virginia (file)
Deer roaming in through the woods of Virginia (file)
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

The news from Colorado is now joined by a discussion of gun laws. Senator John McCain responded to a question Monday about having a gun law debate in the Senate:

Q: Reporter: Can you support some limits on guns and still support the second amendment because the NRA seems to suggest that you can’t?

A: McCain: Again, somebody would have to prove that it would actually have a beneficial effect, some of the strictest gun laws in the country are in places where crime is at its worst.

As “The Last Word” staff worked on Friday night to gather information about the shooting at the Batman movie screening, I read reports from Colorado about the types of guns used in this crime. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said four weapons were used in the attack: “Two 40-caliber Glock handguns, a Remington 870 single-barrel pump shotgun and a Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault-style rifle.” As someone who grew up in a rural part of the southeastern United States, most of those sound pretty familiar with the exception of the AR-15 rifle.

From the age off about 10, as soon as the weather changed from summer to autumn and the leaves started to change, so did my sleep schedule as my father would wake me around 3:30 or 4:00 am to go hunting. I would slowly climb into camouflage coveralls and meet my dad at the gun cabinet in the den, where he would choose the appropriate guns for that mornings hunt: Semi-automatic 20-gauge shotguns for duck, goose and other bird hunting; rifles and a 12-gauge shotgun with buckshot for deer season. Pulling a military-style weapon out of the gun cabinet in the den just didn’t happen.

The rifle used in Colorado was made by Smith & Wesson according to reports and thus is an AR-15 “style” rifle, as another company actually owns that name. The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle and was banned from 1994-2004 when the assault weapons ban expired. One of the arguments for the ban were the various attachments available for purchase for this gun like bayonets. I have never seen a bayonet on a bolt action hunting rifle.

In the 1980s and early ’90s when I hunted with my father, the men he hunted with often talked about the laws concerning gun ownership and especially how to make certain that they were abiding by the law. There was a limit as to how many bullets each gun held and thus a limit to how many shots before you had to reload, three four or five as far I remember. I also remember we had no problem returning home with at least a few ducks, geese, or doves. One pull of the trigger, one shot from a shotgun, and usually at least one bird would go down. If you missed, it took just a second to pull the pump and put another shell in the chamber to fire again. Our chocolate lab did not want for ducks to retrieve in the cold November waters of eastern North Carolina.

The Aurora Police Chief says “these weapons can accommodate large ammunition clips.” The AR-15 used in this attack had a ”drum clip” attachment that could have carried more than 100 rounds and with that clip, the gun “could have fired 50 to 60 rounds in a minute, even if the rifle was considered semi-automatic, not automatic.” Oates added “There were 3,000 rounds of ammunition for this rifle.” 3000 rounds.

One of my most vivid memories of hunting was during middle school, very early on a school day. We climbed a deer stand before sunrise and watched over a field that had probably grown soybeans. About an hour later, a buck with small but legal antlers walked out from the woods, into a field and into his final moments. The deer was too far for me to take a shot at, I was armed with a shotgun. Its been a long time and I don’t remember if my dad was carrying the Remington or the Winchester but I do remember it took him just one shot with his rifle for the deer to go down. It took just one shot across a field that was at least 50 yards.

Think about that. One shot from that rifle took down a deer weighing several hundred pounds that likely was as far from us as half the length of a football field. In comparison the rifle used in the Colorado shootings had a drum magazine attachment that holds as many as 100 bullets. Attachments like that were also banned from 1994-2004. 

It took my dad and me some time to climb down the tree and walk across that field. The deer was still alive when we got there. It was an awful sight, his eyes were wide open looking panicked or maybe shocked. I looked away as my father put him down and then we carried the carcass to the pickup truck and headed back to town. My dad dropped me off at school with the deer still in the truck bed, with enough time to change out of my camo coveralls before class. In all the time I hunted with my father, he was a loyal NRA member and I never heard him once complain that his rifle held too few bullets.

Colorado and John McCain

Hunting and high-capacity magazines

Updated