Gun Digest

High Cap Mags: What to Buy Before They’re Banned

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Tactical Gear - HIgh Cap Mag Ban
A trio of Mec-Gar magazines. Under McCarthy’s legislation, the one on the left will be legal, the one on the right will not.

High Cap Mag Ban

Reading through all of the vitriolic editorials published since the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a pro-gun Democrat, one might get the impression that this incident was the handiwork of a pistol magazine, various gun rights organizations and conservative talk radio.

Naturally, gun prohibitionists quickly capitalized on the incident to push their agenda. However, the proposed ban on extended capacity ammunition magazines has not surprisingly resulted in a buyers’ rush.

Several companies manufacture after-market magazines, and when anti-gun New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn McCarthy introduced her ironically numbered HR 308, her timing could hardly have been worse.

The entire firearms industry was gathered in Las Vegas for the 50th annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show at the Sands Convention Center.  The reaction from industry could easily be summed up in four words: “The hell you say?”

Under McCarthy’s proposed ban, existing magazines would not be transferable; that is, you could not buy, sell, swap or even give them away, and your heirs could not take possession. That would be a nuisance to folks who take the time and buy with a discerning eye, because many of today’s aftermarket products are built for the very long haul.

Magazine capacity would be limited to 10 rounds, same as during the Clinton-era ban. Proponents argue that this limit is now in effect in California, but opponents quickly rebut that it’s been a poor deterrent to gang violence.

While McCarthy’s legislation may not stand much chance of making it into law depending upon whom one listens to, it is turning into one heck of a free advertising effort for builders of big magazines. Understanding that a lot of panicked consumers may rush to stock up on large-capacity magazines, regardless of the bill’s chances, Gun Digest did some timely research to offer some tips on what to look for and what to avoid when purchasing after-market magazines. Veteran gun owners will recall that some of the hastily manufactured magazines that were churned out back in 1994 before the original ban took effect simply turned out to be junk.

Where to Find Quality High Capacity Mags

As Mike Kurvink, technical director for ProMag Industries, which produces some of the top synthetic magazines on the market, observed with perhaps only half of his tongue-in-cheek, “They should outlast the gun!”

ProMag manufactures magazines for about 200 different firearms, and one thing that Kurvink and his colleague, Mike Ballard, director for research and development, stressed is that good magazines will not deform. If one is shopping around for magazines, they cautioned against purchasing what they called generic, non-branded “gun show specials.” These are magazines that might be on sale for a “real bargain” and for good reason. They’re likely to be junk.

Spend a few additional dollars and buy magazines that bear the manufacturer’s brand.

To underscore that advice, a visit to the Washington Arms Collectors’ monthly gun show in Puyallup, WA one day after the SHOT Show concluded found a variety of both types of large-capacity magazines for sale. One vendor had various synthetic Tapco magazines for sale; no doubt a good purchase since Tapco magazines are backed by a lifetime warranty.

However, a couple of aisles away, one fellow was offering for sale an assortment of metal magazines that appeared to be military surplus. They had seen some use, the finish had worn here and there on all of them, and they were not marked; probably not a good idea to purchase any of these.

Polymer magazines have very strong and rigid lips that will not bend or dent.

David Kochol at Mec-Gar confirmed that used magazines, and occasionally some cheaper new ones, may have imperfections including dents or bent lips. At Mec-Gar, they run all magazines through a polishing process that involves tumbling the bodies in a ceramic powder, and before they leave the factory, they are gauged to make certain the bodies are smooth and flat on the sides. Lips and followers are examined to see that they function properly.

Springs are the heart of any magazine. At Mec-Gar, Kochol and colleague Monika DeMagistris noted that they use Type D spring wire, which resists memory; that is, they do not weaken if left depressed over long periods. Such springs can deliver a longer service life. They also recommend that shooters, and particularly law enforcement officers, rotate their magazines every 90 days. Next Page

ProMag’s Mike Kurvink, left, and Mike Ballard.

ProMag uses chrome silicone springs, which resist corrosion and also do not develop a memory.

Good followers are made from various materials, including steel, polymer and reinforced polymer. Years ago, when polymer was first used as a follower material, there were some disappointments, because, at least in some magazines and under harder use, the catch surfaces that are supposed to raise the slide stop would wear out prematurely. Remedies included polymer-coated steel or metal inserts at that specific point to prevent surface wear. Kochol recalled that in the original Beretta Model 92 magazines, the followers were cast material.

Nowadays, steel still reigns for Model 1911 magazines, though we are seeing some with polymer followers. In other pistols, polymer followers are more common, especially those with polymer frames.
When looking for after-market larger capacity magazines, pay attention to those with the same kind of followers as the original equipment. Also, because they have longer bodies, look them over carefully to find any depressions along the sides that could signal trouble during use. Magazines with small dents may bind during loading and/or during shooting, which is not a good thing, especially in competition or a gun battle.

If a magazine is made from polymer, examine it for scratches or cracks in the body. A deep scratch might turn into a crack at the worst possible moment.

If buying metal aftermarket magazines, Mec-Gar’s Kochol also tipped us to something else to watch for. Check along the back of the magazine to see whether it has a noticeable welded seam. (I have personally used such magazines designed for the Government Model, and discovered that while they may work in one of my 1911 pistols, they will not insert or eject smoothly from a custom gun I own. The extended magazines I use have smooth backsides.)

Kochol said Mec-Gar uses tig welding, and the surface is then polished smooth. We examined several Mec-Gar magazines during two interviews and saw this to be true. One could not detect a seam along the back, and rubbing a finger over the surface still did not reveal a seam line.

What else? Oh, yes, the floor plate. Anyone hoping to keep a large-volume magazine running smoothly will want to clean it. A removable floor plate is a big advantage because it allows the full disassembly of the magazine without much fiddling.

If McCarthy’s legislation moves forward, it would also ban replacement magazines for the Ruger 10/22. I happen to own a couple of these and they are a delight to have for extended plinking sessions. They could also come in handy for rabbit hunters who can’t get bunnies to hold still!

Such magazines are made by Butler Creek, Ramline and others including Pro Mag and Tapco. They may have polymer lips or steel-reinforced lips, and they seem to be pretty tough. Pro Mag has obviously thought this one out, because they offer magazines with a replaceable lip piece that can be installed in about a minute.

Kurvink told Gun Digest that the company began preparing to meet the anticipated demand even before McCarthy’s legislation was introduced. Perhaps not surprisingly, every other vendor and magazine distributor we spoke with had the same story: Almost immediately after the Tucson shooting, sales began to spike because consumers were concerned about a prohibition.

For her part, McCarthy fell back on familiar rhetoric to sell her proposal.

“I’m working to stop it from happening again,” she said. “We need comprehensive reform to reduce the number of people hurt or killed by gunfire in America, but one simple way we can do that is by keeping the worst tools of mass murder away from the general public.  This nation has come together before to support this simple, commonsense measure, and it is the law in several states right now.  It is a small sacrifice that law-abiding gun owners can make once again in order to increase everyone’s safety.”

One might ask, why is it always the law-abiding gun owners who are expected to sacrifice? Whatever happened to holding the individuals responsible for their crimes?

Where the election of Barack Obama brought a membership surge at the National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Second Amendment Foundation and other pro-gun groups, McCarthy’s legislation — introduced with 42 co-sponsors — is almost certain to earn the congresswoman a “sales person of the year” award from the aftermarket magazine industry.

From all indications, the suspect in Tucson’s shooting, which claimed the lives of six people including a federal judge and nine-year-old child, gave plenty of warning signs, from his previous encounters with law enforcement to his eerie video at a local community college, and finally to the bizarre altar in his backyard.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Office had prior contacts with Jared Lee Loughner. They were certainly familiar with his behavior, yet the sheriff quickly played partisan politics by blaming talk radio and conservative rhetoric, when in reality, Loughner appears to be a political leftist.

At this writing, Rep. Giffords appeared to be on a slow but positive mend at a facility in Texas.

Where to Buy High Cap Mags

Mec-Gar (860) 635-1525
Tapco (800) 554-1445
Pro Mag (800)438-2547
Butler Creek (800) 423-3537
Ramline 800-635-7656

This article appeared in the April 11, 2011 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to learn more. Subscribe Now

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