Killer's weapon of choice central to gun debate
Background:It comes in black, tan and camouflage. A pink version was once raffled by a gun store to raise money for breast cancer research.
Favoured by target shooters in competitions and by hunters who stalk small game and sometimes deer, its customisable features – grips, sights, barrel lengths – are endlessly discussed by enthusiasts in online forums. It ranks high among the firearms purchased for self-defence.
But the AR-15 style rifle – the most popular rifle in the US, according to gun dealers – was also the weapon of choice for Adam Lanza, police said. He used one made by Bushmaster that contained 30 rounds to kill 20 young children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The magazines that fed bullets into the rifle would have been banned under state legislation that the National Rifle Association and gunmakers successfully fought.
A proposal in March 2011 would have made it a felony to possess magazines with more than 10 bullets and required owners to surrender them to law enforcement or remove them from the state.
Opponents sent more than 30,000 emails and letters to state lawmakers as part of a campaign organised by the NRA and other gun advocates, said Robert Crook, head of the Hartford-based Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, which opposed the legislation.
“The legislators got swamped by NRA emails,” said Betty Gallo, who lobbied for the legislation for Connecticut Against Gun Violence. “They were scared of the NRA and the political backlash.” Proponents abandoned the legislation.
Appeal to killers
The increasing appearance of the rifle in rampage killings – police officials say an AR-15 was used by James Holmes, who is accused of opening fire and killing 12 people in a cinema in Colorado in July and by Jacob Roberts, who killed two people and then took his own life in a shopping mall last week near Portland, Oregon – has rekindled the debate about its availability and its appeal to killers bent on mass slaughter.
It has also starkly highlighted the chasm between those who favour tighter regulation for firearms and those who believe that guns like the AR-15 are widely misunderstood and wrongly blamed for the actions of a few individuals.
Gun control advocates contend that semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 – the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4 – are a logical choice for anyone whose goal is to kill a lot of people in a short time, because of their ability to rapidly fire multiple high-velocity rounds.
AR-15s are not the only guns used by rampaging shooters. Semiautomatic handguns are also frequently employed. In Newtown, in addition to the Bushmaster M-4 carbine, two handguns were found at the scene, a 10mm Glock and a 9mm Sig Sauer, although the rifle is what Lanza used, spraying up to 11 bullets into each victim’s body.
Semi-automatic weapons, including the AR-15, increasingly are being used in the killings of police officers, whose vests often provide little protection against such firearms, said Tom Diaz, a policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, he and others have called for a ban on the high-capacity magazines used with such firearms, which feed 20 or 30 rounds at a fast pace.
Defenders of the firearm cite statistics indicating that unlike handguns or shotguns, rifles of any type account for only a fraction of homicides in the US. Out of 12,664 murder victims last year, 323 were killed with rifles, according to the FBI. – (New York Times/Bloomberg)