Calls to ban AR-15s ring out following Orlando shooting

Law enforcement officials work at the scene of the Pulse Orlando nightclub following a fatal shooting on June 12. (Photo: Chris O'Meara/AP)

Law enforcement officials work at the scene of the Pulse Orlando nightclub following a fatal shooting on June 12. (Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP)

Federal investigators confirmed the guns used in Sunday’s Orlando nightclub shooting included an AR-15, which caused a renewed concern among critics.

“(Sunday’s) massacre of innocent civilians in Orlando is more horrific evidence of the unique lethality of the AR-15. It is no wonder that this weapon was chosen by today’s shooter, as it has been by so many before him and as it undoubtedly will be again,” said Josh Koskoff, of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, in a statement sent to Guns.com. His group represents plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against Bushmaster Firearms, maker of the rifle used in 2012’s Sandy Hook massacre.

Using similar descriptions to the Sandy Hook case, he described the rifle as designed specifically for the military to “kill mass numbers of people with maximum efficiency and ease” and reiterated his arguments that the gun industry promotes ARs as efficient killing machines to raise the item’s appeal.

“The gun industry pretends the civilian AR-15 is vastly different than the military version, because it does not have select fire,” Koskoff said. “This is a charade – the industry knows that the weapon is most lethal in semi-automatic, ‘one shot-one kill’ mode – yet these companies continue to sell it to civilians, abandoning reason in exchange for profit. … It is time for gun manufacturers to be held responsible for these choices.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed Sunday afternoon the gunman used a semi-auto AR-15 chambered in .223 and a semi-auto handgun chambered in 9mm to commit the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, which left 50 dead and more than 50 injured. However, the agency has not released the make and model of the firearms because the investigation is ongoing. Also, it’s unclear which firearm was primarily used during the massacre.

In interviews following the shooting, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called to renew an assault weapons ban, which would prohibit ARs, a position she has pushed throughout her campaign. In her statement, she said this shooting “makes us to remember that the weapons of war have no place in our streets.”

In response to violent crime in the early 1990s, Clinton’s husband, then President Bill Clinton, signed a temporary ban on assault weapons in 1994, but President George W. Bush allowed the measure to expire in 2004. Violent crime peaked in the early 1990s, but began a rapid decrease in the mid-90s. However, federal studies (here and here) suggest the ban had no clear impact on gun violence, but a follow up report said the sample size — 10 years — was too small to adequately measure the impact.

In 2013, there were calls to renew an assault weapons ban that included ARs after the Sandy Hook shooting, where a gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators with a Bushmaster AR rifle. While emotions were high, efforts ultimately failed at the federal level and gun control advocates settled on advancing universal background checks.

As the debate over the AR-15 progressed, the trade association for the gun industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, launched a marketing effort to educate the American public about the role of ARs, which they coined as “Modern Sporting Rifles,” in the U.S.

The group published “Modern Sporting Rifle Facts,” which stated AR-15s do not fit the legal definition of “assault weapons” or “assault rifles,” terms reserved for full auto firearms. The fact sheet also described AR-15s as “the most popular firearms being sold.”

Besides stating general facts, the NSSF shared the tangible benefits manufacturing AR-15s has on the U.S. economy. According to a separate factsheet, banning ARs and semi-auto shotguns would result in $1.3 billion hit on the U.S. economy and a loss of 26,413 jobs across the country.

The NSSF declined requests for comment on this article “out of respect for the families, the Orlando community, the LGBT community as well as the ongoing investigation.” But added, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of the horrific terrorist attack on the nightclub in Orlando.”