How was Omar Saddiqui Mateen able to carry out the deadliest massacre by a single gunman in U.S. history? By bringing “America’s gun of choice” into a closed and crowded space.
Orlando police recovered an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle at Pulse, the gay nightclub that Mateen chose as his target. He reportedly bought the AR-15 and a handgun legally within the last few days.
Without the semiautomatic rifle, which allows a shooter to fire off many rounds at once without reloading, it would have been harder to inflict quite as much damage in such a short period of time.
It was also the gun of choice for the massacres in San Bernardino, California, where 16 people at a holiday party were gunned down, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 children and staffers were murdered, and at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where twelve were killed.
The rifle is a favorite in part because it’s highly customizable, the NRA blog notes. It also accommodates high capacity magazines that can fire off 100 rounds or more within minutes.
Another contributing factor to its popularity is the gun lobby’s fearmongering after every mass shooting. Though the federal government has never attempted to mass-confiscate guns, the NRA and other groups often warn that the government will respond to each shooting by cracking down. As a result, assault rifle sales skyrocket in the wake of each attack.
The NRA claims the rifle is primarily used for hunting, but hunters find the rifles sloppy and controversial. The model is actually 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.
This is how some manufacturers advertise AR-15s:
AR-15 style rifles were once targeted by the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Evidence is mixed on how effective the ban was at reducing gun violence. However, as a Center for American Progress report pointed out, assault weapons like the AR-15 were significantly less regulated than handguns after the ban expired. Since the federal ban expired, some states and cities have taken it upon themselves to ban semiautomatic and automatic weapons, though Florida has not.
Parents of some of the children killed in Newtown recently advanced a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the AR-15, arguing that the companies are liable for their loved ones’ deaths because they market the gun as a military grade weapon “engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency.”
It was later reported that Mateen did not use an AR-15, but a Sig Sauer MPX assault rifle, which is similar to the AR-15 model and was developed for use by U.S. special forces. He also had a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol.