How an 'ugly,' unwanted weapon became the most favorite rifle in America

The lines at Hyatt Guns, his shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, snaked out the door. The deep, green-walled warehouse bills itself as the largest gun shop in America, however even then Hyatt had to stretch to meet the demand.

At one point, he dispatched 37 salespeople to man the cash registers. He put up velvet ropes as well as hired a police officer. He even put a hot dog stand outside.

which was just after the Sandy Hook massacre — as well as customers were lined up to buy AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, like the one the shooter Adam Lanza used.

Mass shootings, rather than temper gun sales, only feed the hunger.

which the boom in business happened after one of the most heinous mass shootings in American history was no coincidence. Mass shootings, rather than temper gun sales, only feed the hunger.

as well as AR-15 style rifles have become a favorite among mass shooters, used in some of the most notorious as well as deadly mass killings in recent history: Aurora, Vegas, Texas, San Bernardino.

This specific can be the story of how media hysteria as well as failed policy; industry pressures as well as consumer demand; blood as well as money helped turn an ugly, unwanted semi-automatic rifle into the most favorite rifle in America.

How a weapon of war was born

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The AR-15’s journey into the hands of gun enthusiasts as well as mass murderers alike started off inside jungles of Vietnam. which was the 1960s, as well as the landscape of warfare had changed. In Vietnam, rather than clear-cut enemy lines, combatants were fighting in close combat in city streets as well as dense forests. Viet Cong guerillas as well as North Vietnamese soldiers carried AK-47s. The US Army needed its own answer.

Enter the AR-15, developed for military use by Armalite, an arms company coming from which the gun takes its name (“AR” stands for “Armalite Rifle”).

The rifle combined rapid fire which has a lighter weight. which replaced higher-caliber bullets with lighter ammunition which made up in speed what which lacked in size.

Rather than relying on marksmanship, the AR-15 used rapid fire. The lightweight rifle maximized its kill rate by raking enemy soldiers with high-velocity rounds. As the original designers explained, the speed of the impact causes the bullet to tumble after which penetrates tissue, creating catastrophic injuries.
Armalite didn’t manage to sell the gun to the military. Faced with money woes, which instead sold the rights to Colt Industries in 1959.

Colt was more successful in its efforts, as well as in 1962, Congress authorized an initial purchase of 8,500 AR-15s for testing. The fully automatic type–capable of being set to semi-automatic–was given a brand-new name for military use: the M-16.

which became the standard-issue rifle during the Vietnam War.

How which was marketed to civilians

Not long after which started off selling M-16s to the military, Colt began marketing the semi-automatic AR-15 to civilians. The company gave which the gentler name of the “Sporter,” as well as described which as a hunting rifle.

however the gun, designed for close, confusing combat, was not an immediate hit. inside eyes of many gun enthusiasts, the “black rifle” — as which was nicknamed — was ugly as well as expensive.

“To its champions, the AR-15 was an embodiment of fresh thinking. Critics saw which as an ugly little toy,” wrote C.J. Chivers in his book, “The Gun.”

In July 1981, the fan magazine Guns as well as Ammo waxed eloquent about the Sporter’s unappealing reputation.

“Most shooters as well as veteran riflemen look down their noses at these steel-stamped rifles as remnants coming from an erector set. The turn-bolt aficionado looks which has a great deal of disdain at anybody toting one of these space-age rifles with plastic stocks as well as fore-ends. The dyed-in-the-wool deer hunter watching his domain being infiltrated by these black as well as gray guns assumes which these ‘brand-new generation’ hunters are merely fantasizing ‘war games’ as well as are playing ‘soldier.'”

Instead, the gun was mainly sold to law enforcement as well as various other narrower demographics — notably, “survivalists” who imagined they would certainly one day face combat situations in an apocalyptic future, according to Tom Diaz, a gun expert as well as author of “creating a Killing: The Business of Guns in America.”

How a mass shooting made which a celebrity

A couple leaves the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California,  with their children after a gunman shot as well as killed several students as well as then turned the gun on himself.

On a dark day in 1989, the public awoke to the notion which civilians could own semi-automatic rifles.

On January 17 of which year, a 24-year-old drifter wearing combat clothes as well as a flak jacket walked up to his old grade-school playground in Stockton, California, as well as pumped bullets on a crowd of children with his AK-47 rifle, a semi-automatic type which had been imported coming from China.
Within minutes, Patrick Edward Purdy squeezed the trigger at least 106 times. He then aimed a pistol to his head as well as pulled the trigger one last time. several children lay dead; 29 various other children as well as one teacher were wounded.
The massacre was so horrifying, Colt Industries, then the supplier received a of the competing AR-15, did something unfathomable today. which suspended civilian sales of the AR-15 for a year while the Bush administration weighed whether to ban the weapon.

Before Stockton, most people didn’t even know you could buy those guns.

Chris Bartocci, a former Colt’s employee as well as author of Black Rifle II

Chris Bartocci, a former Colt employee as well as author of the book “Black Rifle II,’ says which was the very first time many inside general public had heard about the availability of such weapons.

“Before Stockton, most people didn’t even know you could buy those guns,” he said. The media coverage, he said, helped glamorize semi-automatic rifles to the buying public. “This specific stuff has been around forever; This specific can be not brand-new technology.”

The term “AR-15” can be currently considered a style of rifle, rather than a specific brand of one.

By 1990, Guns & Ammo reported which sales of the AR-15 were soaring, although which seems to have been a rather relative term. In 1990, Colt made only 36,000 Sporters for domestic use, according to the Hartford Courant.
The patent on the AR-15 by then had expired, opening the door for several brand-new competitors, which can be why the term “AR-15” can be currently considered a style of rifle, rather than a specific brand of one.

How a ban increased demand

As the profile of the AR-15 rose, talk continued of banning “assault weapons,” a term used by lawmakers to denote certain types of semi-automatic firearms. President George H.W. Bush, a lifetime NRA member, proposed banning all magazines holding more than 15 rounds.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton pushed the assault weapons ban through Congress with some bipartisan support. Presidents Reagan, Carter as well as Ford co-authored a letter to the House of Representatives expressing their support.

“This specific can be a matter of vital importance to the public safety,” which read. “We urge you to listen to the American public as well as to the law enforcement community as well as support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.”

Hyatt, whose store was started off by his father in 1959, recalled a surge in sales then, too.

There’s something about human nature, he says. “You tell a man he can’t have something as well as suddenly he wants 12.”

You tell a man he can’t have something as well as suddenly he wants 12.

Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns

Ironically, the ban didn’t do much to deter the production of the currently-generic AR-15.

Clinton’s ban outlawed Colt’s AR-15 by name. however the ban didn’t cover versions of these weapons unless they had two of these purely cosmetic features: a folding stock, a bayonet mount, a “conspicuously protruding” pistol grip, a flash suppressor or a grenade launcher. Grenades aren’t even legal to own.



of total rifles sold in 2016 were

AR styles/modern sporting rifles.

Source: National Shooting Sports Foundation

“which makes no sense, banning something based on appearance,” said Bartocci. “which’s the same weapon; one just looks meaner.”

Manufacturers quickly found a way to redesign around these constraints.

In its August 2003 issue, while the ban was still in effect, Guns & Ammo ran a feature story titled “Stoner’s ‘Black Rifle’ Marches On,” subtitled “The basic AR platform has been refined, increased, upgraded, power-boosted as well as accurized.”

Sales figures for the AR-15 aren’t made public. however as the ban was about to expire in 2004, the NRA told members “hundreds of thousands of AR-15s have been made as well as sold since the ban took effect.”

In fact, the ban became a powerful tool for the NRA, both politically as well as for its promotion of gun manufacturers.

Until the ban, sales of firearms had been fairly flat. inside eight years preceding the ban, gun makers produced an average of 1.1 million rifles a year, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms as well as Explosives. During the ban, production rose to 1.4 million a year.

which increase can be widely attributed to the growing popularity of semi-automatic rifles, currently called “modern sporting rifles” by the industry as well as gun enthusiasts.

How which became ‘king of the industry’

Through a combination of tragedy, profit, fear, curiosity as well as mysterious human psychology, the AR-15 shed its early reputation as an ugly misfit as well as found a brand-new place as a nimble, versatile fan favorite.

Among sporting rifles, “AR-15 can be the king of the industry, so to speak,” said Michael Weeks, owner of Georgia Gun Store, which boasts “the best selection of firearms in North Georgia.”

Veterans returning coming from the wars in Iraq as well as Afghanistan were comfortable with the weapon. which’s also lightweight, adaptable, as well as relatively easy to maintain.



The number of AR-15s owned

by Americans today

Source: The National Rifle Association

Owners can remodel the guns themselves, or they can construct one coming from scratch with their favorite features.

“which’s everything you want,” said Bartocci, the “Black Rifle II” author. “You want a hunting rifle? which does which. You want a target rifle? which does which. You want a law-enforcement rifle? which does which.”

The AR-15 can be currently the most favorite sporting rifle inside U.S. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, AR-15 style rifles accounted for an estimated 61 percent of all US civilian rifle sales in 2016. The National Rifle Association reports which Americans own more than 15 million AR-15s today.

As more AR-15 style rifles entered the market, the competition caused the cost to drop. During the ban, Weeks said an AR-15 could have cost well over $1,000. however an AR-15 coming from his store costs as little as $400 today.

How Obama’s election stoked sales

By currently the relationship between gun sales as well as anti-gun rhetoric was well-established. So after the assault-weapons ban became defunct in late 2004, rifle production numbers remained relatively flat.

Then, in early 2009, President Barack Obama took office. Conservative gun owners feared a ban coming from Democrats inside White House as well as the Capitol, as well as the numbers went wild.

According to the ATF, gun makers began cranking out 2.4 million rifles annually in Obama’s first term — a 52 percent increase coming from the previous four years of the Bush administration.

In 2008, The Shooting Wire published a feature titled, “Industry Hanging on to just one Category.”

“For the past few weeks, which may be which we’ve given a false impression as to how well the firearms industry can be actually doing,” which read. “The net of all the numbers can be which if you’re a company which has a strong line of high-capacity pistols as well as AR-style rifles, you’re doing land office business. If you’re heavily dependent on hunting, you are hurting.”

This specific illustrated a fundamental shift taking place among gun owners. Gun ownership has declined over the last decades, as well as many gun owners’ motivations have changed.

“There are far fewer hunters currently than there ever have been,” said Weeks.

In 1999, a Pew survey asked gun owners why they owned a gun. Almost 50 percent said “hunting”, as well as 26 percent said “protection.” By 2017, those numbers had reversed — 67 percent said they had a gun for protection as well as only 38 percent said hunting.

How history can be repeating itself

several years ago This specific week, Sandy Hook devastated the nation. which was Stockton writ larger — including the threat of a brand-new ban. The fear which had elevated gun sales during the Obama administration was currently on the horizon, as well as so up again they went. In 2013, total rifle production exploded to nearly 4 million, according to the ATF.

The ban never materialized. Despite strong public support for expanding background checks, President Obama failed to get even which legislation through Congress. The attack shattered the nation as well as raised cries for action. however the shooting which was supposed to change everything changed little.

As gun sales kept climbing, so did the body count.

  • The shooter who killed 58 people as well as injured more than 500 inside Las Vegas massacre on October 1, 2017, used several AR-15 style rifles equipped with bump stocks to mimic fully-automatic rifles.
  • On November 5, 2017, a shooter killed 26 people inside a Texas church using a Ruger AR-556, an AR-15-style rifle.
  • Twelve people
  • were killed as well as 70 injured in a 2012 shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The shooter’s weapons included a Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15 style rifle.

  • In San Bernardino, California, a married couple killed 14 people as well as wounded 21 in a 2015 shooting. The couple used two AR-15 style guns, among others.

The gun which had been created to mow down combatants inside Vietnam jungles was currently a de facto calling card of some of the country’s most heinous mass shooters.

When President Trump was elected in 2016, gun owners rejoiced as well as the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation called him the “most pro-Second Amendment President in recent history.”

So when the Las Vegas massacre happened, the deadliest shooting in modern American history, the frenzy wasn’t as great.

The shooting which was supposed to change everything changed little.

“When you have a president which says, ‘which’s not the gun, which’s mental illness,’ people are a lot calmer about which,” says Weeks, the Georgia gun shop owner.

While the impact of the shooting can be too recent to measure through production numbers, anecdotally, gun sales didn’t see as sharp a rise.

however something else did: Bump stocks.

Sellers said people who hadn’t heard of them before the Vegas shooting rushed in to get one — suspecting they would certainly soon be banned.

How an 'ugly,' unwanted weapon became the most favorite rifle in America

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