At last month's sentencing of Jared Loughner in Tucson, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns surprised some reporters by wading into the debate over guns.

On Thursday he showed that was no accident.

Burns, a self-described conservative appointed by Pres. George W. Bush, published a passionate op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Thursday calling for a ban on  buying or even possessing "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines. He wrote:

Bring back the assault weapons ban, and bring it back with some teeth this time. Ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer and possession of both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Don't let people who already have them keep them. Don't let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market. I don't care whether it's called gun control or a gun ban. I'm for it.

Burns, who normally presides over a courtroom in San Diego, tipped his hand on the issue Nov. 8 in Tucson. In what appeared to be spontaneous remarks he said, "I don't understand the social utility of allowing the public to have magazines with 30 bullets" and went on to ask that the country "balance the social utility of having those things against the harm caused in this case."

On Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner used a high-capacity magazine and fired about 30 shots in 30 seconds before he tried to switch magazines and was tackled by bystanders at a political event.

Burns, a former federal prosecutor, described himself as a conservative and gun owner who prefers "National Review Online to Daily Kos" but doesn't buy the arguments of gun-rights fundamentalists. He wrote,

I say it, finally, mindful of the arguments on the other side, at least as I understand them: that a high-capacity magazine is not that different from multiple smaller-capacity magazines; and that if we ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines one day, there's a danger we would ban guns altogether the next, and your life might depend on you having one.

But if we can't find a way to draw sensible lines with guns that balance individual rights and the public interest, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.

He did not make a legal argument about the constitutionality of such bans or explain how his position fits within a conservative worldview. (For one effort at a conservative case for gun control, try this recent piece.) Instead, Burns framed his argument in common-sense terms:

There is just no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun enthusiasts can still have their venison chili, shoot for sport and competition, and make a home invader flee for his life without pretending they are a part of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden.