Publication Date
July 30, 2014
David B. Kopel
firearms, magazines, Second Amendment, Heller
In recent years, the prohibition of firearms magazines has become an important topic of law and policy debate. This Article details the history of magazines and of magazine prohibition.

Because ten rounds is an oft-proposed figure for magazine bans, Part I of the Article provides the story of such magazines from the earliest sixteenth century onward. Although some people think that multi-shot guns did not appear until Samuel Colt invented the revolver in the 1830s, multi-shot guns predate Col. Colt by over two centuries.

Especially because the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller considers whether arms are “in common use” and are “Typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” the Article also pays attention to whether and when particular guns and their magazines achieved mass market success in the United States. The first time a rifle did so was in 1866, and the first time a handgun did so was in 1935.

The detailed history of various firearms and their magazines stops in 1979 — a year which is somewhat ancient in terms of the current gun control debate. Back in 1979, revolvers still far outsold semi-automatic handguns. No-one was trying to ban so-called “assault weapons,” although such guns were already well-established in the market.

For the post-1979 period, Part I briefly explains technological improvements in recent decades have fostered the continuing popularity of magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

Part II of the article describes the history of magazine prohibition in the United States. Such prohibitions are of recent vintage, with an important exception: during Prohibition, Michigan, Rhode Island, Ohio, and the District of Columbia banned some firearms which held more than a certain number of rounds. The Michigan, Rhode Island, and Ohio laws were later repealed. The D.C. ban, however, remains in force today, with some revisions.

get firearms facts & research

explore our repository