What You Need To Know About The AR-15

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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It’s a machine gun!

No it’s not!

It should be used for military purposes only!

No! I use mine for hunting!

We should ban them!

Why? Handguns are statistically more deadly!

Is your head spinning like mine? As a person who did not grow up around guns, but living in a country where massacres are becoming as common as the Duggar family having babies, I am struggling to make sense of all of it. What is true, non-biased, factual information anymore? Where do you even look?

Well, one thing we can all agree on is that the AR-15 (or similar style rifles) has been the gun of choice for mass shootings over the past few years. But what do we really know about it? Here are some facts that may dispel some myths or rumors you’ve heard, and may teach you a thing or two about the weapon used to kill 17 people at a high school last week.

1. How old do you need to be to purchase an AR-15?

In 48 states, 18 years old.

2. Is this weapon an “assault rifle”?

While often referred to as an “assault-style” weapon, the AR-15 is, by definition, not actually an “assault rifle,” but rather can be categorized as a semi-automatic weapon. An assault rifle means the weapon is fully automatic, and the AR-15 does require a trigger pull for a bullet to leave the barrel.

3. How many rounds can it shoot?

The AR-15 can be loaded with a high-round magazine, as much as 100 rounds, but is typically loaded with 30 rounds. The magazines are said to be easy to carry, manipulate, and reload for an experienced shooter.

4. How many are out there?

The National Rifle Association has called the AR-15 the “most popular rifle in America,” and estimates Americans own more than 8 million of them.

5. What is the history of the AR-15?

It has been used by every branch of the military and became well-known during the Vietnam War as a replacement for the U.S. Military’s M-14, a long large-caliber rifle based on an older World War II design.

6. What does AR stand for?

The AR in AR-15 stands for ArmaLite Rifle.

7. How much does it cost?

The weapon costs between $800-1,800, depending on manufacturer.

8. Is it easy to get?

In many states, this weapon is relatively easy to purchase. There is no waiting period for the AR-15 in Florida, for example.

9. Do you need to pass a background check to purchase an AR-15?

Yes. The Parkland, FL shooter passed his. However, under current federal law, background checks are only required on gun sales at licensed dealers. Therefore, millions of guns are sold each year with no background check, and no questions asked, often between strangers who meet online or at gun shows.

10. Is it easier to get a rifle like the AR-15 than a handgun?

Yes. Statistically, handguns are related to far more gun violence than rifles, so the laws are stricter for purchasing them. However, mass shootings tend to be linked to semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15.

11. Is the AR-15 more deadly than other types of guns?

Yes. Studies suggest that attacks with semiautomatics – including semiautomatics equipped with large capacity magazines like the AR-15 – result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms.

12. Has this gun been banned in the U.S. in the past?

Previously, the AR-15 was classified as an “assault-style” weapon and outlawed under the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004.

13. Was that ban effective in preventing violence?

There is actually a limited amount of empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of this legislation. One gun violence expert, however, says yes, the ban was effective. According to Louis Klarevas of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, who authored the book Rampage Nation, our country saw an 183% increase in massacres and a 239% increase in massacre deaths after the ban was lifted.

14. Is the AR-15 banned anywhere in America today?

While not outright banned, some courts are declaring guns like this to be “weapons of war.” For example, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA “upheld Maryland’s 2013 assault weapons ban, finding that guns like the AR-15 are weapons of war, and thus American civilians don’t have an unfettered right to buy and own them under the Second Amendment.”

15. How frequently is the AR-15 used in mass shootings in America?

Since 2012, AR-15 style rifles have been used to kill 12 people in an Aurora, CO movie theater, 27 children and adults in Newtown, CT, 14 in San Bernardino, 49 people at an Orlando night club, 58 at a Las Vegas music festival, 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, TX church, and 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, a list of 7 shootings that caused 203 deaths.

Regardless of where you fall on this fight—whether you think stricter gun laws will help, or teachers should be armed, or our constitution was written in stone and cannot be amended or interpreted for a changing society, one thing is pretty much non-debatable: the AR-15 can effectively and quickly kill a lot of people.


The Washington Post: The History of the AR-15

The Washington Post: It’s time to bring back the assault weapons ban, gun violence experts say

The Trace: Is the AR-15 a ‘Weapon of War’?

The Trace: Here’s Why American Teenagers Can Buy AR-15s

CNBC: Why the AR-15 Keeps Appearing at America’s Deadliest Mass Shootings

TIME: The Florida School Shooter Used an AR-15 Rifle. Here’s What to Know About the Gun

TIME: It’s Shockingly Easy to Buy the Type of Rifle Used in the Orlando Nightclub Shooting

EVERYTOWN: Background Checks

U.S. Department of Justice: Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003

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