Ed Henson, owner of the Saint Lucie Shooting Center
The AR-15 gun, the main weapon used by Omar Mateen in the shooting rampage in Orlando, has been used in a few recent high-profile mass shootings.
Mateen used the AR-15 and a 9mm semi-automatic handgun when he open fired in the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning where he shot about 100 people and killed 49. Mateen, a licensed Florida security guard, held a state firearms license and was killed by law enforcement.
Mateen legally purchased both weapons days before the shooting, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“He is not a prohibited person, so he can legally walk into a gun dealership and acquire and purchase firearms. He did so. And he did so within the last week or so,” ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Trevor Velinor said Sunday in Orlando.
Some details about the guns have not been released by law enforcement so far including how many times he reloaded or how many rounds the magazines for his AR-15 held. But here is what is known about the weapons Mateen used.
What are AR-15s?
They are capable of shooting a large volume of ammunition with accuracy to about 300 yards. The AR-15 is lightweight, accurate, easy to handle and most often uses a .223 cartridge. The amount of bullets he would have been able to fire between reloads would be contingent upon the size of the magazine.
The standard magazines hold up to 30 rounds. Larger capacity ones are available, but one gun expert said that many of those don’t work well. Reloading is easy with additional preloaded magazines.
The AR-15 is used in hunting everything from small animals to big game, for precision target shooting and personal protection, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“In recent years, the AR-15 has become very, very popular among gun hobbyists and shooters. It’s an accurate, lightweight rifle that is highly customizable,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said. “Many like its military appearance, too.”
The AR-15 is semi-automatic although it is possible to convert it to automatic. However, automatic guns require extensive federal registration.
About 20 different companies make AR-15s.
Some states have a magazine limit of 10 or 15 rounds. But in Florida, there are no general magazine capacity limits in terms of what you can own, but there are limits for certain uses such as for hunting certain animals.
Handguns more common
Some news articles have stated that AR-15s are the gun of choice for mass shooters, but that isn’t the case in the majority of mass shootings, many gun experts said.
“The AR-15 has been used in several recent mass shootings, but actually handguns are used more often,” Winkler said.
In a 2014 study by Northeastern University criminologists James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLateur examining 142 different mass shootings, 68 were carried out using semiautomatic handguns while 35 were carried out using semiautomatic, military-style rifles. The Virginia Tech shooter, who killed 32 people, used two semiautomatic handguns.
AR-15s have been used in some recent high-profile mass shootings including the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting where 26 children and staff were killed, in San Bernardino, California, where 14 were killed and Aurora, Colorado where 12 were killed.
Millions in circulation
The National Rifle Association called the AR-15 “America’s most popular rifle” in a blog in January. Joseph Olson, a retired professor of law at Hamline University, and former board member of the NRA, told the Miami Herald that there are about 10 million in circulation. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimated the number between 5 million and 8.2 million in 2014.
AN old design
The “AR” in the name of the weapon actually doesn’t stand for “assault rifle” but rather the company that first designed and developed it: Armalite Rifle. The company sold the rights to Colt in 1959, according to the NRA. Colt re-designed the rifle and sold it the U.S. military and then created a civilian semi-automatic version. A standard basic model roughly costs $600 to $1,200 although some high-end competition versions can cost up to $4,000.
Experts interviewed for this article include Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor; Harold Corzine, University of Central Florida sociology professor; Joseph Olson, retired Hamline University professor of law and former NRA board member; Steven C. Howard, lawyer and firearms expert witness, Jaclyn Schildkraut, SUNY-Oswego assistant department of public justice. Information was also used from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.