Control the Ammo, Not the Guns

Eric Sentell argues that regulating ammunition would be more effective—and acceptable to gun-owners—than regulating the guns themselves.

Each time a man massacres people, society hopelessly asks an unanswerable question: why, why, why. Then people answer the next question—what can we do—in one of two ways: they affirm gun rights and advocate conceal-and-carry, boasting in anger that they would have killed the killer; or they demand stricter regulations while denigrating gun-advocates as basically insane with idiotic machismo.

My first reaction upon hearing the news of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting was to decide to obtain a conceal-and-carry permit so that I could protect myself and my wife in such a horrific situation. I wanted to be able to come out of my movie theater seat blazing rather than waiting for James Holmes to happen upon us cowering behind that seat.

As some have pointed out, however,  a second person with a gun could accidentally shoot innocent victims in a dark, crowded movie theater, or he could be shot by police as they arrive on the scene—or even another gun-carrying person. Answering violence with violence makes elementary sense, but it often fails when secondary and tertiary variables come into play.

Killing the killer may be necessary in some situations. It certainly sounds heroic. But arming ourselves to the teeth is not the best way for society to respond to the recent rash of mass shootings. It doesn’t prevent the violence, and it could make it worse.

Neither is restricting gun rights. Even if the gun show and online loopholes were closed, methodical lunatics like James Holmes would still figure out a way to obtain firearms. And wherever we draw the line between legal and illegal firearms, there will always be some pretty lethal weapons dancing all over it.

The best solution is to stop worrying about guns at all. Instead, we should worry about ammunition. If we want to prevent mass shootings while respecting gun rights, we need to regulate ammo and magazine sales.

No one needs to stockpile thousands of rounds of ammo unless they intend to massacre a large number of people. Recreational shooters don’t expend a thousand rounds per shooting range trip. Hunters don’t spray-and-pray through the woods, hoping they hit something edible. Ammo prices will surely rise along with inflation, but due to the NRA’s powerful lobbying, the government isn’t likely to cause any artificial price increases.

Some gun-advocates claim the second amendment enables citizens to protect themselves from their own government, so they should—they must—be able to buy thousands of rounds and 30-round clips for their automatic weapons. But let’s be honest: if our democracy turns into a dictatorship, all the assault rifles and 30-round clips in the world aren’t going to be much use against M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, F-23 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, and B-2 bombers. When people demand the right to purchase personal arsenals to defend themselves against the government, the public is endangered by people like Holmes just to satisfy the long-term, unfounded, purposeless paranoia of a few.

Even if we continue allowing massive ammo purchases, we still can—and should—regulate ammo magazines. If James Holmes had had a normal magazine for his gun rather than a 30-round banana clip, then he would have needed to reload several times to fire the number of rounds he almost instantly poured into the movie-goers. That’s several lulls in the shooting in which victims could have sought cover, escaped, or rushed him. That’s several delays with police en route.

No one except a terrorist, criminal, or mass murderer needs a 30-round magazine. I would probably draw the line at an eight or ten-round clip. This number would limit the damage people like James Holmes can inflict without inconveniencing gun-owners. Recreational shooters practice their aim, not how many rounds their gun can spew. Hunters, good ones anyway, don’t need more than a few rounds to bag their game.

In fact, many hunters prefer black powder muzzle-loaders because of the added challenge of extra reloading time—the first shot matters more, as I discovered during my first muzzle-loader hunting experience. (I missed and the deer stood there, laughing, while I fumbled to reload.) I suppose the freedom fighters of the apocalyptic future could use more than ten rounds per clip, but everything in life has some trade-off.

If we want to prevent—or at least minimize—future mass shootings while still respecting the rights of gun-owners and bowing to the realities of regulatory loopholes, then we need to shift our focus from the weapons to the bullets. Neither guns nor people kill people. Bullets do.


Read more about Guns on The Good Life.

Image of stacked bullets courtesy of Shutterstock

About Eric Sentell

Eric Sentell lives in Piedmont, MO, with his brilliant and beautiful wife and teaches college composition at Southeast Missouri State University. His short fiction has been published online or in print by The Rivendell Gazette, Long Story Short, Moon City Review, Unlikely Stories 2.0, Blink Ink Online, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and Six Minute Magazine. In September 2010, Long Story Short selected “Stolen Thunder” as its Story of the Month. Role Reboot published his first essay on gender roles, “Why Emotional Intelligence is Vital for Husbands.” He frequently writes for Role Reboot and The Good Men Project on gender roles, marriage, masculinity, and political and cultural debates. Follow him on Twitter @EricSentell.


  1. Making bullets more expensive insures that only the rich will have access to protection.

    How about we focus on the real issue- mental health. How many law abiding citizens don’t kill people? Fix the crazy, fix the problem. Until then, accept that part of our liberty is giving up safety.

    • i like that says:

      Buy all the guns and ammo you want, but pass an annual psych exam to keep them.

      • Then YOU don’t understand this Nation’s formation and Second Amendment.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Check out the Rosenhan experiment. Wiki has it, along with a bunch of other hits. You’d think a characterization of shrinks as jumped-up witch doctors was overly generous.
        Of course, if you think you will control the guys doing the psych eval, it might work. (Nobody passes.)
        Or if one of the evaluators thinks wanting a gun means you’re dangerous. That might work.

  2. texanadian says:

    “be able to buy thousands of rounds and 30-round clips for their automatic weapons.”

    It requires a special permit to own an automatic weapon. The general public can only buy semi-autos, please learn the difference, which you should know if you have a concealed carry license. If you are going to talk like an expert get your information straight please. Other comments have already stated anything else I would add.
    An armed man is a citizen and unarmed man is a slave.

    • I once sat outside the Massachusetts AG’s office, waiting for my turn to see him about some business matters. A gun-control advocate/lobbyist was in with him, and I could hear every word spoken.

      They were drafting a bill or action to ban or further control “guns.” They clearly knew nothing of the subject, as the lobbyist had to explain to the AG the diference between a “shotgun” and a “rifle.” He got it wrong! He got 90% wrong.

      I heard cute little questions from the AG like: “can’t we limit the power of a shotgun or a rifle?…so they can’t reach so far?” “So the double-barrel shotgun is really automatic?” I was in near tears in that waiting room realizing what type of complete morons wield their authority in venues of total ignorance.

      I lef there, after my pitch-time, hoping someone would explain a few things to the AG, including the fact that shotguns, shooting “buckshot,” leaves no discernible “rifling forensics.” That’s a little fact that even Hollywood has not figured-out.

  3. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    If I can ever afford it, I have my eye on the M-14 I fired expert with in 1964 (the last good infantry weapon we had before the unfortunate GI-killing M-16 was purchased.) The civilian variant is the M1-A (no auto selector switch.) It has a twenty round magazine, and I don’t expect to settle for anything less.

  4. Magazine weapons have been used in warfare for over a hundred years. The basic design challenge is that the larger the capacity the lower the reliability and ergonomic handiness. With the goal always to develop maximun fire-power, magazine capacity has stayed in the 10 to 30 round range. Smaller mags can be more easily changed without fumbling under stress. With a little training and practice, a hand full of 10 round mags would work to keep up sustained fire – with gaps for reloading way too short for anyone to attack or escape past the shooter. This is exactly what happened in the Killen Texas mass shooting back in the day. This is what semi-autos have always been specifically designed to achieve.
    Banning 30 round mags would just make the state look ridiculus. Good quality ones cost around 15 dollars and lots of people have been stock-piling them for years. They are the easiest thing there is to smuggle and sell underground.
    My take on the 2nd amendment is not that it is to enable citizens to fight the government so much as enable them to have the means to do their own self defense under the color of law. To enable your own gun fighting, in other words.

  5. Eric Sentell says:

    I’m concerned I may have offended some people, so I want to clarify a few points. First, I should have defined and emphasized “need” much more thoroughly. Using a 30-round magazine for shooting competitions or practice may be convenient, but it’s hard for me to see a strict “need” unless the targets move. Even then, I personally feel that using so many rounds defeats the skill and sport involved with hitting moving targets. Similarly, buying ammo by the thousands may be convenient for avid shooters, but it’s difficult for me to perceive a vital “need” for doing so. In short, I was not trying to imply anything negative about people who stockpile ammo or who use large magazines. Nor was I suggesting that reducing the size of ammo purchases or magazines would magically prevent mass shootings. Rather, I was simply trying to suggest a potentially effective method of minimizing future tragedies while still respecting the rights and needs of gun owners.

    • Eric, there’s a specific problem with regards to certain popular shooting sports. In 3-gun “Open” class competitions, most stock shotguns carry fewer shells than there are targets to shoot. If you have to pause to reload even a single shell, you already lost. Much like the Olympics where all the records are being set in the last tenth, hundredth, and thousandth of a second, everyone who’s good has more or less equivalent training, a whole boatload of talent, years of practice, and high-capacity magazines. Without any one of the four, you’re a talented amateur at best.

      And yes, for the record, the practice involves expending an awful lot of ammunition. I recall the US olympic team ended up backing off on how much they shot in the last month or so, but even then they were firing 500 rounds a day (and performing another 2000 “dry fire” drills on top of that).

      I don’t “need” a Mustang, a firearm, or a computer capable of crunching the numbers for an Apollo launch or a nuclear weapon design. (Amusingly, the latter is considered a basic human right by the European court of human rights) All three of them enrich my life.

      Also, I suspect you don’t understand the meaning of “convenient for avid shooters” with regards to cost. That may be the difference between shooting as a financially viable hobby, and shooting as a thing you can only afford to do occasionally. As an occasional activity, suddenly nobody who does it is in practice, driving up accident rates.

  6. So you want to limit ammo purchases…

    I’ve got roughly 3 tons of lead already stockpiled, plus over 800 pounds of brass of various calibers in 5-gallon buckets, jugs of powder, and many thousands of primers of various sizes. Three reloading presses, 20-30 caliber specific reloading die sets, and molds for making cast lead bullets in any caliber I own and then some. Plus ammo cans full of factory made FMJ bullets in rifle and pistol calibers. Black powder, round balls, and percussion caps for the muzzle loaders.

    Okay, limit ammo sales. I’ll just make my own.

    I shoot a lot, many thousands of rounds each year. More than half of it is 22 rimfire, which can’t be reloaded.
    Good thing I stocked up years ago.

    Oh wait, I must be a terrorist.

  7. Steve Briggs says:

    Oh, BTW, the last rifle in american invetory that used a “clip” was the M1 Garand of WW2 and Korea. It used an 8 round En-Bloc stripper-clip. Since then, modern rifles useful for two-legged varmints use little boxes called MAGAZINES!!!!! The next time someone calls a magazine a “clip” a box of puppies will be lit on fire and thrown off a bridge.

  8. You know one M/28 bolt-action rifle with an 5-round non-detachable magazine, loaded individually or with five-round stripper clips and iron sights only, was used to cause some 200-500* casualties in 98 days.
    *(It was usually impossible to confirm the kills as the targets were on the side of the enemy.)

    Also guerillas an revolutionaries don’t march in stright line on the fields anymore and your B-2 bombers are practically useless as long as you are unable to locate the targets.

    Besides if you want to be an decent shot you should shoot thousands of bullets per year.
    Just for an example: For an Tactical Rifle II course arranged by the National Defence Training Association we had to bring 2000+ bullets each for an period of two days.

  9. I huge pile of drivel from someone who knows nothing about the subject.

  10. I think comedian Chris Rock once made a similar “argument”.

    [irony]Anyway, extra large magazines and assault rifles really won’t do you any good if you’re trying to fight off a hostile government. As events in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices are far more effective than machine guns.[/irony]

    • ***rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices are far more effective than machine guns***

      Oy!!! Don’t get me started. I want RPGs sold from Walmart.

      Here in NH, we had a governor who wanted his Nat’l Guard to have nukes (not kidding). Loved that man…

  11. Oh..and on what date shall we limit the knives? I can take-out a good 50 “items” with a Henkle before you can dial 911. Oooh!!! I know…..Limit the length of the knife!!!!!

    Given that Obama is highly likely to re-win, I fully expect the price of Chicago Cutlery to ascend greatly.

  12. ***No one except a terrorist, criminal, or mass murderer needs a 30-round magazine.***

    Do you even know why the 2nd Amendment was created?

    ***No one except a terrorist, criminal, or mass murderer needs a 30-round magazine.***

    No one except _________ needs a V8 Engine….Internet access…cabinet jammed to the roof with food-stores…large quantities of cash…high-powered lawyers…

    Question you won’t answer:
    #1: If you TRULY TRULY TRULY believe “Ammo Control” will protect us, will you similarly disarm the police?

    #2: Why do you suppose this is a modern phenom? When my parents were kids, Thomson MACHINE GUNS could be had thru The Sears Catalogue! What has changed?

  13. Load of crap from someone who knows not of what they speak. Or is being dishonest.
    “No one needs to stockpile thousands of rounds of ammo unless they intend to massacre a large number of people. Recreational shooters don’t expend a thousand rounds per shooting range trip. Hunters don’t spray-and-pray through the woods, hoping they hit something edible. ”
    I’ve gone through several hundred rounds of ammo in a day at the range more than once, and I know people who shoot more than I do. People practicing for competitions may shoot a thousand rounds in a day; are you going to require them to show proof of need to buy their ammo, and only on the morning of the shoot?

    “No one except a terrorist, criminal, or mass murderer needs a 30-round magazine. I would probably draw the line at an eight or ten-round clip. This number would limit the damage people like James Holmes can inflict without inconveniencing gun-owners. Recreational shooters practice their aim, not how many rounds their gun can spew. Hunters, good ones anyway, don’t need more than a few rounds to bag their game.”
    You mean like shooters in 3-gun competition, who DO use 30-round rifle magazines? And standard-capacity pistol magazines(depending on gun model & caliber, some hold up to 17 rounds)? Of course, you won’t want to talk about the fact that with a little practice someone can change magazines in a few seconds, that doesn’t fit the narrative, does it? Besides, you say someone like Holmes would still find a way to get a gun; you think they couldn’t also find all the magazines and ammo they want?

    One more try at blaming objects for what people do, and a another “I’m not attacking the 2nd Amendment rights!” try at doing just that.

    • AMEN!!!! Typical kneejerk bs…

    • Firehand

      IA 100%

      I would also say some people probably stockpile because they know people like the author want to make ammo hard to obtain.
      Lets say we do make ammo hard to obtain. What about poor, inner city people who need a gun to protect themselves from THUGS? How are they going to afford jacked up ammo prices? One such person is my granny. Why are you wanting to make ammo expensive for my granny?

      I think the better question is…

      Why do we put our kids or ourselves on what is essentially crack then wondering why we are raging like, well, crackheads? Many shooters is on some kind of psychotropic drug. As far as school shootings kids on these drugs were reporting vivid fantasies of shooting up their schools. Then Columbine happened. People think I’m nuts for bringing it up, but the insert and the package freely admit these drugs could very well make you act cuckoo.

      There are sites devoted to this topic like ssristoriesdotcom.

  14. Hank Vandenburgh says:


  15. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I think the main thing is that these schemes try to control the access of law-abiding people to guns or ammunition. It’s irrelevant, and I’d actually like to see more people armed, and perhaps open carry (not closed.)

    NYC has grotesque laws where you can carry ammo for guns you don’t legally own. Again, this doesn’t get to the correct people.

  16. AnonymousDog says:

    While I don’t agree with legal restrictions on magazine capacity, they at least have a certain plausibility. Restrictions on the total amount of ammunition a person could own strike me as completely whimsical.

    The Columbine shooters, the Aurora shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter, and any others you might name all had less than one hundred rounds of ammo one their persons when they committed their crimes. What practical difference does it make how much they left at home? Ammunition is heavy, and there is a limit to how much a person can carry. Is the point of such restrictions really about preventing crime, or is there some social/political object in limiting the amount of ammo that law abiding citizens can possess?

    • Let us not forget that there are a couple good reasons to buy ammo by the crate.

      1: Price – bulk orders can cost half or less what the gun range will charge you if you buy by the box. It’s cheaper still to buy the components – including pounds of gunpowder – and manufacture your own ammunition for personal use, if your savings will pay for the reloading press, dies, and tumbler.

      2: Hedging – for the same reason Wall Street invented many of its crazier financial instruments, a crate of ammunition can protect you against unforeseen risks. That’s the nature of living in a nation prosecuting a war – most of the ammunition factories are fulfilling contracts for the Army at any given time, and as Economics 101 taught us, as supply dwindles, price skyrockets. By keeping an extra 10,000 rounds in my garage, I can buy low and sell (okay, shoot) while the prices are high without suffering a pain in the wallet. At its most extreme, I may be able to keep in practice when there’s no ammunition to be had for any price – or trade my buddy a dozen rounds for a case of beer, and both of us shall leave thinking we got the better end of the deal.

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