The gunman who opened fire inside a Texas church was using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, police said Sunday, in the latest mass shooting involving the weapon.
Versions of the rifle were also used in the attacks on a country music concert in Las Vegas last month; on a Newtown, Conn., school, at a Colorado movie theater, in 2012; and at a workplace holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015.
Here is a primer on the AR-15 from news reports.
The weapon is based on the US military’s M-16 series of carbines and rifles. It is ubiquitous in movies, video games, television shows, and toy stores. The weapons are often referred to as assault rifles or assault weapons, although the gun industry calls them “modern sporting rifles.”
The original AR-15 (AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle) was manufactured by Colt in the late 1950s as the American response to the Soviet-made AK-47. But it is now more of a category than a specific weapon, because hundreds of variants by other manufacturers have flooded the market.
One trauma surgeon called the rifle “the perfect killing machine.” The gas-operated, magazine-fed, and air-cooled models are said to be accurate up to about 500 yards.
They have gained favor over the years because of their relative light weight (about 8 pounds when loaded) and because owners can mix and match elements such as grips and barrels.
Among the add-ons are “bump stocks,” which are designed to make the semi-automatic rifles mimic the firing action of fully automatic weapons. Authorities said the Las Vegas gunman used the device. Last week, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to ban the devices.
The AR-15 was tightly restricted under a 1994 federal law known as the assault weapons ban. Congress allowed the law to expire in 2004.
Massachusetts has maintained a ban against the sale of specific weapons like the Colt AR-15, explicitly prohibiting “copies or duplicates” of those weapons.
Last year, Attorney General Maura Healey issued a directive to toughen enforcement of the state’s ban, saying gun manufacturers were continuing to market “state compliant” copycat versions of their assault weapons. Healey’s order prompted a lawsuit by the state’s affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Sources: The Associated Press, Washington Post, and San Antonio Express-NewsRoy Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @roygreene.