You Won’t Believe How Many High-Capacity Gun Magazines Americans Really Own

Pamela Au /
Pamela Au /

Amid a national debate intensified by recent legislative proposals, including a bill that suggests an eye-popping 1,000 percent federal excise tax on high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, a revealing report sheds light on just how embedded these items are in American gun culture.

Americans own over 700 million ammunition magazines that can hold more than ten rounds, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). These figures suggest a prevailing “national standard” for magazine capacity, deeply ingrained in the fabric of American firearm ownership.

The NSSF’s April 12 report reveals that between 1990 and 2021, around 963 million magazines were produced for the commercial market, with about 74 percent, or 717 million, capable of holding more than 11 rounds.

The breakdown between rifles and pistols shows that most high-capacity magazines are used in rifles, with over 508 million of the 579 million rifle magazines holding more than 11 rounds. Particularly notable are the 448 million magazines that can hold more than 30 rounds.

For pistols, there are over 209 million magazines with a capacity of more than 11 rounds, outnumbering those that hold ten or fewer rounds.

The NSSF emphasizes that the popularity of magazines capable of holding more than 11 rounds is evident in their manufacturing trends. They argue that while legislative changes might alter market dynamics, the preference for higher capacity is clear.

Twelve states, along with the District of Columbia, have enacted laws limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Among these states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon.

Highlighting the relevance of high-capacity magazines, the NSSF points to the widespread use of Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR), where over half of MSR owners use magazines that hold 30 rounds, citing availability and popularity as key factors.

The NSSF contends that the extensive circulation of nearly 1 billion detachable magazines for both rifles and pistols underscores their common usage for lawful purposes such as sport shooting, hunting, and self-defense. They stress that these magazines are integral to the functionality of modern semi-automatic firearms and are protected under the Second Amendment.

The TSA reported detecting 1,503 firearms at airport checkpoints in the first quarter of 2024, with the vast majority being loaded. This underscores ongoing security concerns and the importance of proper firearm transportation.

In Illinois, a new law banning magazines with a capacity over ten rounds has been challenged as unconstitutional, referencing Supreme Court decisions that uphold the right to bear arms as defined in historical context. In February, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), said that the Illinois gun and magazine bans are unconstitutional based on the Heller ruling of 2008 and the Bruen ruling of 2022.

On a national level, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced legislation that would impose a prohibitive 1,000 percent excise tax on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, potentially making a $500 rifle cost an additional $5,000. The bill, Assault Weapons Excise Act (HR 5135), was co-sponsored by 24 Democrat lawmakers. Beyer isn’t the only lawmaker proposing to raise gun and ammunition excise taxes. State lawmakers in California and Connecticut have made a similar proposal.

This move comes amid broader efforts, supported by the White House’s “Safer States Initiative,” to reduce gun violence through more stringent regulations and accountability for the gun industry. This initiative advocates for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

However, the National Rifle Association and other studies argue against these measures, citing data that shows limited impact on crime reduction from previous bans and the fact that rifles of any type are rarely used in homicides. These ongoing debates underscore the deep divide over gun control measures and the interpretation of Second Amendment rights in the U.S.