A gun-rights group challenging a New Jersey law that lowers the number of bullets a gun can hold contended in federal court Tuesday that American homeowners want weapons with more capacity.
The law, passed in June, limits gun owners to magazines that hold 10 rounds of ammunition instead of the 15-round limit in place since 1990.
The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, in arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, said the new law hurts only homeowners because criminals won't follow it.
"They need to have some rationale why the rules in place [previously] are not enough," lawyer David H. Thompson told the three-judge appellate panel.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office argued that 10 rounds are plenty for self-defense. Anything more could prove dangerous to bystanders, Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Feigenbaum said. And, he said, mass shooters might be interrupted if they have to stop to reload after 10 rounds.
Seven states, the District of Columbia, and several cities have limits on large-capacity magazines that courts have generally upheld, according to briefs filed in the case. Thompson called New Jersey's lower limit an undue burden and said there's little evidence it will reduce gun violence.
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was struck in the head by the first bullet from a gunman's 33-round magazine in 2011, but the 13th bullet killed a 9-year-old girl nearby, according to an amicus brief filed by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The center said the gunman, who was tackled when he tried to reload, might not have killed the child had he had less firepower. Nineteen people were shot outside an Arizona supermarket that day, six fatally. Giffords survived.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia, meanwhile, signed a separate brief supporting New Jersey's position, although not all said they would take the same tack in addressing gun safety measures.
The New Jersey law, one of six gun control measures signed by Gov. Murphy in June, exempts retired law enforcement officers and active military personnel, but not veterans, which the gun clubs called discriminatory.
In court papers, they argued about half of all magazines owned in America can hold more than 10 bullets, an amount they called "standard," not "large-capacity." Many of the nation's most popular pistols and semi-automatic rifles likewise hold more than 10 rounds, and are legal in 43 states, they said.
"The American people — they've bought 133 million of these," Thompson said Tuesday. "They are speaking loud and clear. For whatever reason, these are the arms they have chosen to defend their homes."
Circuit Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., who presided, said the panel hoped to rule on the case promptly.