Seattle School Shooter Was Thwarted By A Limited Amount Of Ammunition

Students and faculty pray together following a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON
Students and faculty pray together following a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON

A gunman killed one student and injured several others Thursday at Seattle Pacific University, in what is the 73rd school shooting since Newtown, according to Everytown for Gun Safety’s count. There’s a lot we don’t know yet. But one fact that is being widely reported is that the shooter was prevented from doing even more harm when he stopped to reload his shotgun. In that moment, a student building monitor used pepper spray to subdue the shooter and other students helped hold the shooter down until the police arrived.

The shooter, suspected to be 26-year-old Aaron R. Ybarra, had to stop to reload his gun because his magazine could only hold a limited number of shells. The more shells or bullets a magazine can hold, the the longer a continuous spray of shots can go on before the gun has to be reloaded. Contrast this scenario — he reportedly hit four people before he stopped to reload — with the 2012 Arora, Colorado, shooting at a movie theater in which 70 people were injured and 12 killed by a gun with a 100-round drum.

At some point, alleged shooter James Holmes’ gun jammed, and he switched to using a pistol, which doesn’t have the same destruction capabilities as his semiautomatic rifle. And a limit imposed on the shooter by the gun is a common theme in a number of mass shootings. In the 2011 Arizona mass shooting that saw six dead and 13 injured, Jared Loughner used a handgun with a 31-round clip. In the end, he, too, was stopped when he went to change magazines. And in the Sandy Hook Massacre, 20 kids and 6 adults were killed with a gun that had a 30-bullet clip. But Lanza did reload after his gun jammed. While he wasn’t stopped during reloading, six children were reportedly able to escape during those moments.

There were once federal limits on magazines for just this reason. But the ban on high-capacity magazines ended with the death of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. Attempts to pass a new federal ban after the Arora shooting have failed. But in recent years, several states and localities have passed their own laws limiting high-capacity magazines. And legal challenges to the bans have thus far failed, with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to review a case on the matter in March.