The National Rifle Association has dubbed the AR-15 “America's rifle. Without a doubt the rifle is popular as one industry group estimates that U.S. citizens now own more than 8 million AR-15 rifles.
The prototype AR-15 rifle was designed by ArmaLite as a selective fire for military purposes. Armalite sold the design to Colt due to financial difficulties. And, after some modifications, the rifle eventually became the US Army's M16 rifle.
One reason for the popularity of the AR-15 is its many options for customization. There are Pinterest and Instagram pages dedicated to how versatile the AR-15 is. In fact, it is sometimes called “the Lego set of the arms world.” The AR-15 has been tweaked for the civilian market.
The term "AR-15" signifies "Armalite rifle, design 15. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, conversion to full automatic was straightforward, using items such as the "Drop In Auto Sear" or "lightning link". In some cases such conversion required machining the lower receiver with a mill, as well as the substitution of a M16 bolt carrier group.
Select-fire rifles -- allowing the operator to select between three modes: safe, semi-automatic and three-round burst – are legal in the U.S. so long as they are registered (though they can no longer be registered).
And, civilian models can no longer be legally modified to full automatic in the United States. Today, the civilian manufacture, sale and possession of post-1986 select-fire AR-15 variants or automatic trigger group components is prohibited, per the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act, barring certain exempted groups such as motion picture armorers.
However, it is legal to sell templates, tooling and manuals to conduct such conversion. These items are typically marketed as "post-sample" materials for Federal Firearm Licensees. They may be used to manufacture select-fire variants of the AR-15 for sale to law enforcement, military and overseas customers.
According to a 2010 National Shooting Sports Foundation study, the rifle costs, on average, $1,000. A CBS News producer was able to purchase one from a Virginia gun store along with 100 rounds of ammunition and a 30-round magazine for $1,030. The rifle fires one round (or one single bullet) per pull of the trigger, but is capable of firing hundreds or rounds within minutes.
Directly following a number of highly publicized shootings, people have rushed to stores to buy these rifles (and firearms in general). Afraid of more attacks or that lawmakers will curtail their sale. In January 2013, the month after the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School and President Obama's call for greater restrictions on the sale of assault weapons, a record-breaking 2 million guns were sold in America, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.
In 1994, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed a federal assault weapons ban that included some models of the AR-15. The ban expired in 2004.
California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., also have laws substantially restricting or banning such weapons, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In addition, Minnesota and Virginia have strong regulations for assault weapons, the center said.
Walmart, the nation's leading gun dealer, stopped selling the AR-15 and a range of other military-style weapons in 2015. The company reportedly said it was due to declining consumer demand and was not a political statement.
In April 2016, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled that a lawsuit can go forward against the maker of the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The lawsuit argues the AR-15 is a military weapon and should not have been sold to civilians.
(“Why the AR-15 is America's gun.” CBS News. 2016.)
Assault Weapons Bans Have Been Proven To Be EffectiveThe 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was effective at reducing crime and getting these military-style weapons off our streets. Since the ban expired, more than 350 people have been killed and more than 450 injured by these weapons.
- A Justice Department study of the assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.
- Source: Jeffrey A. Roth & Christopher S. Koper, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994,” (March 1997).
- The same study also found that “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.”
- The use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.
- Source: Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003” (June 2004), University of Pennsylvania, Report to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
- The percentage of firearms seized by police in Virginia that had high-capacity magazines dropped significantly during the ban. That figure has doubled since the ban expired.
- Source: David S. Fallis and James V. Grimaldi, “In Virginia, high-yield clip seizures rise,” Washington Post, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/22/AR2011012204046.html
- When Maryland imposed a more stringent ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in 1994, it led to a 55% drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore Police Department.
- Source: Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca C. Knox, Letter to the Editor, The Maryland Ban on the Sale of Assault Pistols and High-Capacity Magazines: Estimating the Impact in Baltimore, 87 Am. J. of Public Health 2, Feb. 1997.
- 37% of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals’ use of assault weapons since the 1994 federal ban expired.
- Source: Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime:
Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact (May 2010).
- Source: Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime: Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact (May 2010).