Shorter than a baseball bat and lighter than a bowling ball, the AR-15 rifle is America’s favorite semi-automatic rifle.
It’s affordable. It’s simple to shoot. Its gentle recoil makes it easy to aim.
The AR-15’s high-velocity bullets make this rifle so deadly, as those shot are quite literally eviscerated by the blast.
This is what also makes it an absolute killing machine and a dismally regular theme in America’s mass epidemic of mass shootings - including the latest massacre in Lewiston, Maine, on Wednesday night.
At least 22 were killed and 50 to 60 injured after a gunman armed with one of these rifles hunted down victims in a bar and grill, and bowling alley and unleashed carnage.
Sheriffs issued this picture of the man they are hunting. He is seen entering Sparetime, a bowling alley in Lewiston
The gunman, wearing a brown hoodie, is seen in Lewiston on Wednesday night
It is the deadliest mass shooting to hit America this year.
The town and neighboring city of Auburn were placed on lockdown, and the rising death toll prompted local hospitals to declare a mass casualty event.
Law enforcement asked people to shelter in place and lock their doors.
But what is it about these weapons that has made them nearly synonymous with mass murder?
According to an analysis by The Washington Post, prior to the start of 2023, ten of the 17 deadliest U.S. mass shootings since 2012 involved AR-15s.
The killer who showered bullets down on a Las Vegas concert used the gun in 2017, as did the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter in 2012.
In early May, eight people were killed and seven more wounded when 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia, armed with an AR-15 and handgun, stepped out of his car at Texas’ Allen Premium Outlets shopping center and immediately opened fire.
The Robb Elementary School gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was also armed with an AR-15.
Those three shootings alone left more than 100 dead.
However, for enthusiasts of the weapon coined ‘America’s Rifle,’ this is not reason enough to ban them outright.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade group, calls an AR-15 a ‘sporting rifle.’
The group stresses that it’s a semi-automatic weapon that only fires one round with each pull of the trigger, as opposed to a fully-automatic that continuously chambers and fires rounds.
An experienced gunman armed with a typical AR-15 can fire 45 to 100 bullets per minute. Customized with a large capacity ammunition magazine, the AR-15 can rattle off 100-plus before a user is forced to pause and reload.
In the Las Vegas massacre, Stephen Paddock modified his AR-15 with a ‘bump stock’ that made it fire at the rate of a machine gun.
An experienced gunman armed with a typical AR-15 can fire 45 to 100 bullets per minute
Audrey Hale was armed with an AR-15 and an arsenal of other firearms, killing three nine-year-olds and three adults at a Christian School in Nashville, Tennessee
In April, Connor Sturgeon purchased an AR-15 from a local dealer before his rampage at a Louisville, Kentucky bank that left five of his co-workers dead.
This modification exploits the rifle’s natural recoil to make the firearm slide back and forth and ‘bump’ against the shooter’s finger, depressing the trigger at a nearly constant pace.
The 64-year-old killer fired at least 90 rounds in just 10 seconds.
Following the slaughter, the Trump administration banned ‘bump stocks,’ but the federal regulation was overturned by a court – a decision that the Biden Administration is appealing.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the weapon is the lethality of its bullets.
The AR-15 takes a relatively small caliber round that contains a comparatively large amount of propellant.
When fired, these projectiles travel at three times the speed of those shot from handguns. And when the bullets strike, they create a shock wave that tears through vital organs and shatters bones.
A single bullet is enough to blow apart a skull.
The round leaves a gaping exit wound – sometimes softball-sized – that causes torrential bleeding.
Such an injury is nearly always fatal unless treated immediately.
Pediatric trauma surgeon Dr. Liao told ABC’s Nightline that a child or an adult can bleed to death in as little as five minutes, as ‘a high-velocity firearm will create a giant hole in the body that is with missing tissue.’
Opponents argue that civilians have no need for such weapons that were first designed for the battlefield.
A BATTLEFIELD-STYLE WEAPON IN AMERICAN HOMES
The original AR-15 was developed by U.S. firm ArmaLite in the 1950s. The initials A.R. stand for ArmaLite Rifle, and the number 15 signifies the model.
Firearms manufacturer Colt bought the patent in 1959 and started producing the gun for military and civilian use. In the early 1960’s, the AR-15 became a favorite of the Pentagon during the Vietnam War.
Footage of armed police in school hallway as Salvador Ramos embarks on his massacre in Uvalde
Police form up before advancing on a classroom in which Ramos was located
It was later developed into the military’s fully-automatic M16 rifle – and is still used by U.S. soldiers today.
Colt still holds the trademark for producing AR-15s, but when the patent expired in 1977, competitors like Remington, Smith & Wesson and Ruger started making their own versions.
Millions have been sold. But decades ago, customers weren’t interested, as civilians preferred handguns and traditional long rifles to combat-style weapons.
‘We’d have NRA members walk by our booth and give us the finger,’ Randy Luth, the president and founder of gunmaker DPMS, one of the earliest companies to sell AR-15s, told the Washington Post.
It wasn’t until the early 2000’s – following a post-9/11 uptick in firearms interest – that AR-15 sales skyrocketed.
THE $1 BILLION BUSINESS OF AR-15s
The firearms industry had been struggling with stagnant sales for several years when the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004.
The legislation, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, prohibited the manufacturing of certain semi-automatic firearms including AR-15s.
When Congress and President George W. Bush’s administration declined to renew the ban, there was an opportunity for gunmakers.
In 1994, AR-15s made up just 2.2 percent of all guns manufactured in America.
By 2019, that number rose to 25 percent of all firearms produced, according to data from the NSSF and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Children run to safety after escaping from a window during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School
Outpouring of grief after Robb Elementary School shooting
DPMS president Randy Luth suggested that the military’s use of the weapon during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and their marketing efforts made the guns more attractive to consumers.
‘We made it look cool,’ Luth told the Washington Post. ‘The same reason you buy a Corvette.’
A 2022 House Oversight Committee investigation determined that five major gunmakers – Daniel Defense, Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., and Sturm, Ruger & Co. – raked in a combined $1 billion in revenue over 10 years from the sale of AR-15s alone.