Drum magazine

A drum magazine is a type of high-capacity magazine for firearms.[1] Cylindrical in shape (similar to a drum), drum magazines store rounds in a spiral around the center of the magazine, facing the direction of the barrel. Drum magazines are contrasted with more common box-type magazines, which have a lower capacity and store rounds flat.[2] The capacity of drum magazines varies, but is generally between 50 and 100 rounds.[3]

Schematic illustrations of a Beta Cmagazine filled with 100 cartridges.
double drum magazine empty.

History and usage

The first drum magazine was patented in 1853 by Charles N. Tyler.[4] A drum magazine was built for the Luger (Pistole 1908) pistol);[5] although the Luger usually used an 8-cartridge box magazine, the optional 32-cartridge Schneckenmagazine ("snail magazine") was also sometimes used.[6] Moubray G. Farquhar and Arthur H. Hill, applied for a British patent for "A New or Improved Cartridge Magazine for Small Arms and Machine Guns" in 1915 for their Farquhar–Hill rifle, and it was accepted in 1919.[7]

The Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun which used 7.62mm caliber ammunition, could use either a 35-round box magazine or a 71-round drum magazine, and the latter was most common.[8]

The Thompson submachine gun ("Tommy gun") used a drum magazine in its classic form, but the drum magazines for this weapon were abandoned on the World War II models.[9] The M1921 Thompsons could accommodate either 20-round box magazines or 50-round cylindrical drum magazines; the latter were known as "L drums" because "L" is the Latin numeral for 50.[10] An 100-round "C drum" magazine (the letter standing for the Roman numeral for 100) was available, but weighed more than eight pounds and pushed the total weight of the gun to almost 20 pounds (9.1 kg).[11] The M1928 Navy and M1928A1 variants, used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, could also accept drum magazines, but standard box magazines were more popular due to the drum magazines' weight and tendency to jam.[12]

Today, drum magazines are manufactured for a variety of firearm platforms, including, among others, the Ruger Mini-14 in .223 caliber; the Kalashnikov rifle (AK) and its variants; firearms using M-16 and AR-15-type magazines, and the H&K MP-5.[13] The AR-180 uses drum magazines exclusively.[14]

Drum magazines once had a reputation for unreliability, but technological improvements resulted in better performance and cheaper cost.[15] As a result, drum magazines became more common in the civilian market in the United States, although they are far less common than standard, lower-capacity box magazines.[15] As of 2019, about six manufacturers produced drum magazine in the United States, retailing for about $100 each.[15] Manufacturers include KCI USA and Magpul Industries; the latter produces the same drum magazines for both civilian and military use.[15]

Regulation in the United States

Drum magazines have been used in a number of high-profile mass shootings in the United States, fueling calls to ban drum magazines and other high-capacity magazines from civilian use.[15] Drum magazines were used in the shooting massacres in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012;[16][17] Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017 (the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States); and Dayton, Ohio, in 2019, allowing gunmen to fire dozens of rounds in very short periods of time, without the need to stop to reload.[15][18] Experts have identified restrictions on high-capacity magazines as a factor that could make mass shooting attacks less deadly.[18]

Between 1994 and 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited new magazines over 10 rounds in the United States.[19][15] After the expiration of the ban, there is no nationwide prohibition against the possession of drum magazines, which are considered an regulated firearm accessory.[15] However, as of 2019, ten states set a maximum limit on the capacity of magazines, including California, New York, and Colorado,[15] plus the District of Columbia.[18]


  1. Walker 2013, p. 229-30.
  2. Walker 2013, p. 229-30.
  3. Walker 2013, p. 229-30.
  4. U.S. Patent 9701.
  5. Walker 2013, p. 230.
  6. "Luger Schneckenmagazine" in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Small Arms (ed. Rupert Matthews: Thunder Bay Press, 2014).
  7. GB191508172 (A) (accepted March 6, 2019). European Patent Office.
  8. Yenne 2009, p. 208.
  9. Yenne 2009, p. 7, 117, 208.
  10. Yenne 2009, p. 48.
  11. Yenne 2009, p. 48.
  12. Yenne 2009, p. 86.
  13. Walker 2013, p. 230.
  14. Walker 2013, p. 230.
  15. Ben Kesling & Zusha Elinson, Mass Shootings Draw Attention to 'Drum Magazines', Wall Street Journal (August 16, 2019).
  16. Pearce, Matt (July 22, 2012). "Gun's magazine shaped the pace of Colorado theater massacre". Los Angeles Times.
  17. Goode, Erica (December 16, 2012). "Rifle Used in Killings, America's Most Popular, Highlights Regulation Debate". The New York Times.
  18. Griff Witte, As mass shootings rise, experts say high-capacity magazines should be the focus, Washington Post (August 18, 2019).
  19. Walker 2013, p. 230.


  • Yenne, Bill (2009). Tommy Gun: How General Thompson's Submachine Gun Wrote History. Thomas Dunne Books.
  • Walker, Robert E. (2013). Cartridges and Firearm Identification. CRC Press.
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