The rifle has been used in the nation’s worst mass shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary, the Las Vegas concert shooting and the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The AR-15, which stands for ArmaLite and not assault rifle, has soared in popularity for a variety of reasons:
• Accessories available for customization
• Similar appearance to military rifles
• Concerns it will be banned
The rifle is semiautomatic which means one bullet is fired per trigger pull. As opposed to an automatic rifle where the trigger can be held down and the gun will shoot until the magazine empties.
Automatic weapons are virtually illegal since a special license is needed to own one and the model has to be made before 1986.
Maple City Firearms, a Norwalk gun shop specializing in sports shooting and home defense, is one of the many local gun stores in the area to sell AR-15s.
“They are extremely rare,” Maple City Firearms owner Matthew Dotson said. “There have been no shootings in previous years that I’m aware of that involved an automatic weapon.”
Lake Erie Arms in Huron, Everett’s Gun Shop in Castalia and other local sports outfitters were confirmed to sell the rifle through the store’s website or phone calls.
“I’d imagine most places around here do. I’ve been selling them since 1985,” Everett’s Gun Shop owner James Everett said.
The rifles recent use in multiple shootings including Parkland, where the rifle was purchased legally, has reopened the debate on gun control and the sale of semiautomatic rifles.
“It’s not the gun that kills people, it’s the idiot behind it,” Everett said.
The three main ways people can legally purchase a rifle include gun shops, gun shows and private sales.
The rifles can range anywhere in price from $650 to $5,000. The purchaser must be 18 or older and needs a valid form of identification with an address.
The purchaser then fills outs paperwork with their personal information, including if they have a criminal record or they have a mental diagnosis.
The gun shop then runs a background check through the FBI to determine if they should proceed with the sale.
The FBI has run 230 million background checks for firearm ownership since it was mandated in 1998. During that time, the bureau denied more than 1.3 million sales, according to the FBI.
“It's the same background checks they do for concealed carry permits,” Dotson said. “It can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If there are any red flags they are denied or they have a hold put on it.”
Holds occur when more time is needed to identify the purchaser and clear them after a disqualifying factor returns for someone who matched the purchaser’s description.
“A hold takes about a week before the FBI contacts me and lets me know if they’ve been approved or denied,” Dotson said.
Many people believe a loophole exists in the law that allows firearms to be purchased at gun shows without being properly cleared.
“The gun show loophole is a myth,” Dotson said. “There are private sales that are legal, but if you go to a gun show the majority of the people there are dealers and have to go through the same background check.”
A person cannot knowingly sell a firearm to a buyer from out state or who isn’t legally allowed to own one. If authorities discover someone did sell to a buyer who can’t own a firearm, the seller can be prosecuted for a federal crime.
“If it’s someone you don’t know, you don’t want to sell it to them,” Dotson said.
To protect themselves from possible prosecution, many people looking to privately sell firearms have used gun shops to do a transfer.
“They’ll give me the gun. I’ll put it through my records and run a background check on the seller before the purchase so everyone is in the clear,” Dotson said.
The service is inexpensive costing approximately $20 at Maple City Firearms.
The transfer method is also used by private sellers at gun shows and many shows have people specifically there to run background checks, Dotson said.