The role of assault rifles in U.S. mass shootings

November 07, 2017 - 11:38 am

(NEW YORK) -- Americans are grappling with yet another massacre. This time, a Texas church's Sunday morning service was interrupted by a masked gunman who sprayed parishioners with bullets. Air Force veteran Devin Kelley killed 26 people -- many of them children -- and injured 20 more in what authorities have called a "domestic situation."

The weapon he used, according to authorities, was an AR-15 assault rifle.

The AR-15 rifle is favored by hunters for its magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic action. It can also be easily customized.

The AR-15 was invented by American engineer Eugene Stoner of ArmaLite Inc. in the late 1950s. From its inception, it was prized for being lightweight, accurate and able to fire multiple rounds quickly.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 bans the possession of machine guns by civilians. But AR-15s are classified as “modern sporting rifles” by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and not subject to the law.

Ronald Turk, associate deputy director and chief operating officer of the ATF, said AR-15s and similar firearms “are now standard for hunting activities.”

According to a National Rifle Association blog post titled “Why the AR-15 is America's Most Popular Rifle,” the weapon's design mimics that of the automatic M-16 rifle, used by American soldiers.

And it’s the rifle that appears again and again as a murder weapon in American mass shootings.

These are the five most recent AR-15-involved mass shootings in the U.S.:

Las Vegas, Nevada: 58 people and injured over 500 people killed on Oct. 1, 2017

Perched from his two-room hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree and avid video poker gambler, fired on hundreds of country music fans attending an outdoor music festival.

The killer checked in to the room on Sept. 28 with 10 bags containing at least 23 guns, including AR-15-style and AK-47-style rifles and a "large cache of ammunition."

Some of rifles were rigged with bump stocks: devices that dramatically increase the rate at which semi-automatic weapons can fire.

Paddock set up surveillance cameras inside and outside his suite. He ultimately committed suicide, authorities said, when SWAT teams responded to his room.

Orlando, Florida: 49 people killed, 53 wounded on June 12, 2016

In the early morning of June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen crashed a night of partying at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.

Mateen took clubgoers hostage before slaying them. He died after engaging in a firefight with authorities.

Mateen used an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun purchased from a federally licensed dealer near his home in Fort Pierce, Florida.

San Bernardino, California: 14 people killed, 22 people wounded on Dec. 2, 2015

Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, stormed the Inland Regional Center during a Department of Public Health training session and holiday party where they shot and killed San Bernardino county workers.

Farook was an employee with the division and worked alongside many of the victims for years. According to the FBI, he used two semi-automatic AR-15 rifles in his attack.

After the killing spree, Farook and Malik were killed by police as they tried to escape.

Colorado Springs, Colorado: 3 people killed on Oct. 31, 2015

That Halloween morning, Noah Harpham, 33, armed with an AR-15 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a .357 revolver killed a bicyclist and two women before being shot by police.

Witnesses reported Harpham walking down a street carrying a rifle and two gas cans.

Chattanooga, Tennessee: 4 people killed, 3 people wounded on July 16, 2015

24-year-old Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez shot and killed four Marines, and wounded three others, when he opened fire on the Naval Operation Support Center and an Armed Forces Recruiting Center.

Abdulazeez, of Hixson, Tennessee, was killed in a firefight with responding police officers.

Investigators said the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga graduate possessed a Kalashnikov variant rifle, a Smith & Wesson handgun and a Saiga-12 semiautomatic shotgun. An AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle was discovered by investigators at his family’s home.

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