AR-15 rifle a favorite with enthusiasts
Its use in recent U.S. massacres rekindles debate over its availability.
It comes in black, tan and camouflage. A pink version was once raffled by a gun store to raise money for breast cancer research.
Favored by target shooters in competitions and by hunters who stalk small game and sometimes deer, its customizable features — stocks, grips, sights, barrel lengths — are endlessly discussed by enthusiasts in online forums. It ranks high among the fire- arms purchased for selfdefense.
But the AR-15 style rifle — the most popular rifle in America, according to gun dealers — was also the weapon of choice for Adam Lanza, the police said, who used one made by Bushmaster to kill 20 young children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in a massacre Friday that has horrified the nation.
The increasing appearance of the rifle in rampage killings — police officials say an AR-15 was used by James E. Holmes, who is accused of opening fire and killing 12 people in a movie theater in Colorado in July, and by Jacob Roberts, who killed two people and then took his own life in a shopping mall last week near Portland, Ore. — has rekindled the debate about its availability and its appeal to killers bent on mass slaughter.
It has also starkly highlighted the chasm between those who favor tighter regulation for firearms and those who believe guns like the AR-15 are widely misunderstood and wrongly blamed for the actions of a few individuals.
Gun control advocates contend that semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 — the civilian version of the military’s M16 and M-4 — are a logical choice for anyone whose goal is to kill a lot of people in a short time, because of their ability to rapidly fire multiple highvelocity rounds.
Some advocates have argued for banning assault rifles, though some of them also acknowledge that the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, was inadequate and largely ineffective.
Defenders of the firearm, however, say it is misguided to blame a gun that is used by millions of owners across the country in a responsible manner.
They argue that unlike its military counterparts, the civilian models of the AR-15 are almost all semiautomatic and so should not be classified as assault rifles.
Critics describe them as high-power weapons; in addition to firing multiple rounds quickly, their muzzle velocity is almost double that of a typical traditional shotgun. But defenders say that most AR-15s are chambered for .223 or 5.56-mm ammunition, low-caliber rounds that are less deadly than those used in many handguns.
And defenders cite statistics indicating that unlike handguns or shotguns, rifles of any type account for only a fraction of homicides in the U.S. — out of 12,664 shooting victims last year, 323 were killed with rifles, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.