Gun-control backers concerned about changing federal courts

A semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine shown in Rocklin, Calif., in 2013.

Victor Hamblett of Salem is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and a longtime Republican. He and his family members own firearms and have completed gun safety training, he said.

For a few years in the early 1970s, after flying Army medevac helicopters in Vietnam, Hamblett patrolled Roanoke’s streets as a police officer. Later, he flew passenger jets for American Airlines, he said.

As a cop, Hamblett carried a six-shot revolver. That’s the sidearm the Army issued him, too. Both experiences informed an idea Hamblett broached when he called me recently to jawbone about guns.

Congress should outlaw high-capacity magazines such as those used by shooters in recent gun massacres, Hamblett said. He said he wants the NRA to back a ban and believes Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, and others in Congress should support a ban, too.

That would “cure this damn gun problem we have in this country,” Hamblett, 71, told me.

He was referring to mass shootings. Three took place in the U.S. from July 28 to Aug. 4 — in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio.

“We need to stop the mass murders. It’s an epidemic,” he said. “My heart breaks for the people who are getting killed.”

The latest three incidents claimed the lives of 34 people, along with two of the shooters. The victims were attending a food festival, shopping at Walmart or out for a night on the town. More than 60 men, women and children were hurt, either by gunfire or in the melee it caused.

In each case, gunmen carried military-style “assault” rifles and equipped themselves with high-capacity magazines. A magazine carried by the Dayton shooter held 100 rounds, authorities said.

“The military and law enforcement need high-capacity magazines and firepower,” Hamblett said. “The citizenry — nobody needs more than six shots at a time for anything.”

He proposes limiting magazine capacity to five bullets for rifles and handguns. Another bullet in the chamber of a semi-automatic weapon would allow for six shots before reloading, Hamblett said. (That’s five bullets fewer than the 10-bullet-limit allowed under the now-expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which forbade sales of higher-capacity magazines.)

“As an NRA member I would vote for that in one minute,” Hamblett said. “It’s common sense. I believe the right and the left could agree on that. Let’s not ban the weapons. Let’s ban the [high-capacity] magazines.”

“If somebody can’t hit their target in six shots, they probably ought not to be firing a gun in the first place,” I observed.

“You’ve got a point,” Hamblett replied.

He said the government should offer a buyback for higher capacity magazines. Hamblett said $5 is a fair buyback price. A buyback could be conducted through licensed gun stores, he said.

Possession of a high-capacity magazine should be a misdemeanor, he said. Because most gun owners are law-abiding, Hamblett said, he believes most banned magazines would be turned in before a law took effect.

I couldn’t resist a bit of devil’s advocacy.

“If you ban high capacity magazines, then only criminals will have them,” I said, reciting a favorite argument of the gun rights movement.

Hamblett was ready with a reply.

“Honestly, I think if you look back at the last 20 years, the people who are doing the massacres aren’t criminals,” Hamblett said.

The suspects named by authorities in the most recent three massacres did not have felony records. They obtained their weapons legally. The semi-automatic rifle used in Gilroy was illegal in California, but the killer bought it Nevada, where such guns aren’t banned.

The same goes for the shooter in Virginia Beach who on May 31 used semi-automatic handguns, extended magazines and a suppressor in killing 12 people and wounding four. Those weapons and devices all are legal in Virginia.

“Criminals usually steal their guns,” Hamblett argued. If law-abiding gun owners turned in their high capacity magazines, “in the long run, they’d be off the streets” and unavailable for theft.

One interesting aspect to Hamblett’s idea is that it wouldn’t deny a single firearm owner the right to buy or bear the weapon of his or her choice. Moreover, those gun owners could own all the five-bullet magazines they desired, Hamblett said.

At the same time, Hamblett’s plan could effectively address a key danger in military-style semi-automatic rifles. They’re not much different than ordinary rifles except for the fact they can carry magazines that hold 20, 30, 50 and 100 rounds.

“If you want an AR-15, go get one,” Hamblett said. “You just can’t have more than six shots.”

Has Hamblett run his idea past members of the Congress? Not yet.

“You can send Morgan Griffith or Ben Cline a letter, but it won’t amount to much,” he said. “That’s why I’m calling you. You can put it out there.”

Nor has he yet presented the idea to the Republican National Committee or the NRA.

“I might, though,” Hamblett added. “They call me three times a week, asking for money.”

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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