America Knows This Gun All Too Well

by Seth Millstein

America grieved on Sunday after a gunman shot and killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. It was the worst mass shooting in US history and yet another stark reminder of the unspeakable frequency with which gun violence occurs in the U.S. It was eventually reported that the Orlando gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to carry out the massacre, and as this infographic shows, he was far from the first mass shooter to do so.

Due to its unique nature, the shooting resulted in discussion and debate on several distinct hot-button political issues. Some viewed the tragedy as primarily a terrorism issue, as the gunman had reportedly declared allegiance to ISIS. To others, the salient fact about the killing is that it took place at an gay club, making it the latest illustration of the risks LGBT Americans face on a daily basis. Some focused on the fact that the killer purchased his weapons legally, while others noted that many of the victims were Latino, as the shooting took place during the club's "Latin Night."

All of those perspectives deserve serious consideration and analysis. So, too, does the fact that the weapon the killer used has become a favorite of mass shooters in America, and was used and found at the scene in many high-profile shootings over the last several years.

This isn't necessarily a comprehensive list, thanks to the long-running debate over what constitutes a "mass shooting." And some of these shootings also included other guns on the scene. But the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre, the attack in San Bernardino and many other mass shootings — in all of them, the killer possessed an AR-15 or AR-15-style rifle (the AR-15 is actually a model of gun by Colt; other rifles are classified as AR-15 style but have their own model name, such as the Bushmaster XM15-E2S used in the Sandy Hook shooting and the Smith & Wesson M&P15 used in the Aurora, Colorado shooting). Possible reasons for the pervasiveness of this type of gun include the fact that it's a highly flexible and customizable firearm, as well as the fact that, with the right magazine, it can fire off 100 rounds without being reloaded.

Certain varieties of AR-15-style rifles were banned for a decade between 1994 and 2004 under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, but that law has since expired and Congress hasn't reauthorized it. The AR-15 is now "America's most popular rifle," according to the National Rifle Association, and Slate's Justin Peters estimated that as of 2012, there were around 3.75 million AR-15s in the US.

It's impossible, of course, to say how any of these shootings would have unfolded out if AR-15-style guns hadn't been available to the assailants. But it's indisputable that this fully-legal, semi-automatic assault rifle is a common denominators in many of the worst mass shootings of the last decade.

Images: Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle (2)