Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s Firearms Nescience

I was at the Crossroads of the West gun show in Las Vegas when I learned about Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo's agitation for limits on firearm magazine sizes. Lombardo's statement to the Las Vegas Sun, "I’m a very avid hunter, I was in the military myself, and there’s no need to have a high-capacity magazine for any practical reason," is prima facie evidence that he is either (1) grossly unqualified for his job; or (2) willing to subordinate public safety to a political agenda that is far better suited to Los Angeles than any place in Nevada.

Anybody with even rudimentary competence in law enforcement knows there are two very legitimate practical applications for high-capacity magazines: (1) multiple aggressors; and (2) failure to stop the aggressor(s). This is why almost all law enforcement officers carry them.

Multiple aggressors are self-explanatory. FrontSight's defensive handgun training includes scenarios in which students confront four armed attackers, as represented by human-shaped targets. The normal procedure is to fire two rounds into an aggressor's thoracic cavity, and then attempt the more difficult head shot if he keeps coming and/or shooting. Multiple aggressors, in contrast, get one shot each and then "seconds" for any who are still aggressing. The latter is a very high likelihood because, contrary to what we see in movies and on television, bad guys often do not fall over after being shot. This is "failure to stop."

Failure to Stop

Lieutenant Colonel George Vincent Fosbery, the coinventor of the Webley-Fosbery pistol, earned the Victoria Cross and therefore knew a lot more about actual combat than those who get their ideas from movies and television. Fosbery explained the issue as follows.

“With the civilized man, who knows to a nicety the locality of his principal organs and something of the effects that the presence of foreign bodies in his interior may be expected to produce … a comparatively feeble weapon may often be used with good effect.” Police instructor Massad Ayoob added similarly that no rational person wants to be shot with anything, even a .22 or .25 caliber pistol. Police officers and armed civilians do not, however, carry or own firearms to stop civilized or rational people. They keep firearms to stop vicious and deranged individuals who, as Fosbery put it, know "as little about [their] insides as a tiger does."

This was proven decisively in the Moro insurrection of 1899, when it was quite common for American troops to find "Two corpses lying near each other—a Moro with six bullets in his chest and a mutilated trooper still holding an empty .38 service revolver." This underscores the typical handgun's lack of stopping power, and it was why the Model 1911 Colt .45 was invented.  B ut even rifle fire is not guaranteed to stop a determined attacker who might be hopped up on a drug like PCP. A popular song of that era went, "Underneath the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag," but even the Krag-Jørgensen Rifle's 30 caliber round was sometimes not adequate for this task. This quote from Boatman Books (no longer available online) reports of one Juramentado, "He had 32 Krag balls through him and was only stopped by the 33rd bullet -- a Colt .45 slug through both ears."

American soldiers in Korea similarly found the M-1 Carbine, whose muzzle energy exceeds that of any handgun except the .50 caliber Desert Eagle, incapable of stopping North Korean and Chinese soldiers consistently. To put this in perspective, the .30 carbine round compares favorably to Harry Callahan's .44 Magnum, but it was often not up to the job of making a GI's day in the face of a Chinese Communist human wave. One man even threw away his carbine when he was able to acquire an M-1 Garand, which fires a full-sized rifle (.30-06) rather than a carbine cartridge.

Massad Ayoob described a similar situation in which an armed citizen fired his rifle empty, and then used it as a club to bring down a deranged gunman who had already murdered a bystander and wounded a police officer. The purpose of a rifle is to stop an aggressor at a distance rather than require its user to close to contact range and engage in prehistoric hand to hand combat. Ayoob is a nationally recognized authority who has provided expert testimony in justifiable shooting cases, and he is infinitely more qualified than Mr. Lombardo or his friends at the Las Vegas Sun to discuss this issue. See this link for Part 2 of Ayoob's article.

Jeff Cooper, a Marine Corps officer who, like Fosbery, saw action against real enemy combatants instead of television and movie mooks who fall over on cue, described a situation in which a man was prosecuted for firing eight rounds into an aggressor. Cooper exonerated the shooter with expert testimony about a suicide in which "the deceased shot himself amidships four times with a .380 Webley. Presumably the first three hits did not convince him."

Another example of failure to stop, and again we are talking about the real world rather than whatever Mr. Lombardo and the editors of the Las Vegas Sun see in movies and television, involved a mother who hid from a home invader with her child and a .38 handgun. The home invader found them, whereupon she emptied the weapon for five hits. The home invader did not die or even fall over. He ran away only because he did not realize she was out of ammunition, fled to his car, drove far enough to crash into a tree despite his injuries, and was then arrested. This exemplifies a real situation in which Mr. Lombardo's agenda could easily get a mother and her child killed. Lombardo's next statement underscores further his (1) incompetence and/or (2) willful and reckless disregard of well-known facts about firearms.

Magazine Limits Protect Nobody but Criminals

Lombardo adds that it is "not uncommon for guns to jam during magazine change-outs." When I took FrontSight's excellent four-day defensive handgun course, I had to change magazines more than 50 times, and I did not experience a single malfunction. Few if any of the other students experienced jams while firing (collectively) over ten thousand rounds. Lombardo's suggestion that a magazine change leaves the aggressor momentarily vulnerable is therefore likely to kill anybody who acts on his advice. This is simply the law enforcement counterpart of medical quackery.

The Las Vegas Sun adds, "Lombardo says the time it takes for suspects to change magazines gives potential victims an opportunity to escape and law enforcement officials an opportunity to safely fire back." It takes less than two seconds for a skilled shooter to change a magazine, and he can still fire the round in the weapon's chamber to stop or at least seriously injure anybody who rushes him. I did this against a knife-armed aggressor (represented by a full-sized paper target) while I was changing magazines during a FrontSight exercise. An active shooter might indeed experience a failure to stop the good guy, especially with only one round, but "failure to stop" does not equal "failure to seriously injure" or "failure to mortally wound." If Lombardo's advice encourages people to rush active shooters while they change magazines, they are likely to die as a result.

The Gabrielle Giffords shooting is the only case of which I know in which bystanders were able to take down the aggressor while he was changing magazines, and they succeeded only because he fumbled the loaded one. "Loughner stopped to reload, but dropped the loaded magazine from his pocket to the sidewalk, from where bystander Patricia Maisch grabbed it." A self-defense plan that relies on the bad guy's incompetence is simply a quack prescription for suicide.

Existing Laws Already Cover Criminals

Felons, and this includes those who have yet to acquire a criminal record, are not allowed to possess firearms with magazines of any size. Under 18 U.S. Code § 924, even somebody with no prior criminal record who uses a gun in a felony is subject to additional Federal charges.

…any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime …uses or carries a firearm, or who, in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime—

(i) be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years;

(ii) if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 7 years; and

(iii) if the firearm is discharged, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years.

A sheriff's function is to protect law-abiding citizens rather than to put their lives at risk by confusing a discredited political ideology with his sworn duty as a law enforcement professional. Clark County voters should therefore remove Mr. Lombardo from office at the earliest opportunity, along with any Nevada legislators who support this dangerous agenda.

William A. Levinson is the author of several books on business management including content on organizational psychology, as well as manufacturing productivity and quality.