AR-15 ri­fle a fa­vorite with en­thu­si­asts

Its use in re­cent U.S. mas­sacres rekin­dles de­bate over its avail­abil­ity.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Erica Goode

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.

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