A 19-year-old former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday afternoon, killing 17 people.
The suspect, identified by law enforcement officials as Nikolas Cruz, chose the same weapon used to carry out some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history: an AR-15.
It’s the same assault rifle that was used at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza killed 27 people, including 20 first graders. It was used in Aurora, Colorado, where James Holmes killed 12 people in a movie theater. It was used in San Bernardino, California, where Syed Farook killed 14 people. And it was used in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Steven Paddock killed 58 people — to date, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the U.S. according to the National Rifle Association (NRA); there are an estimated 9 million in circulation as of 2014. Its popularity is likely due to the fact that it is extremely customizable and accommodates high capacity magazines that can fire off 100 rounds or more within minutes, features the NRA frequently touts on its blog.
The NRA claims the rifle is primarily used for hunting, but hunters find the rifles sloppy and controversial. Instead, the gun is marketed more toward civilians who want to play war. Colt’s first AR-15 model in the 1960s was inspired by civilian interest in the automatic version of the rifle the company had sold to the U.S. military as the M16.
The rifle’s popularity is also likely due to how frequently the NRA promotes it. The organization’s Twitter feed has regularly featured messages of admiration for the AR-15, even after the assault rifle was used to murder numerous people in several mass shootings.
For example, the NRA believes an AR-15 is perfect to defend your home.
The AR-15 for Home Defense: Reliability http://t.co/qPKnN6p1tM
— NRA (@NRA) August 15, 2014
And believes the process of building the gun is rewarding and fun!
— NRA (@NRA) January 14, 2016
The NRA won’t mention when the AR-15 is used in a mass shooting, but it will let you when it’s not.
— NRATV (@NRATV) September 17, 2013
In addition to the AR-15 rifle, Cruz was also carrying “countless magazines” according to the Broward County Sheriff’s office.
“This is catastrophic,” Sheriff Scott Israel said. “There really are no words.”