More than 220 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. this year, according to Gun Violence Archive, with the mass shooting at an outlet shopping mall in Allen, Texas, being the latest mass shooting in which an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle was used.
Known as the “most popular rifle in America” by the National Rifle Association, the AR-15 has been at the heart of gun violence debates for decades. According to The Washington Post, an AR-15-style rifle has been used in at least 10 of the 17 deadliest mass shootings in America.
NPR reports that AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons are considered to be civilian versions of military weapons that advocates say aren’t very different. The original military design goes back to the 1950s, which, like its military version, is designed to kill people quickly and in large numbers.
“It is a weapon of war that is really only suitable for soldiers in a combat zone,” Lindsay Nichols, policy director for the Giffords Law Center, told NBC News. “Its ability to kill a lot of people quickly is the reason why we want it banned.”
Dr. Ernest E. Moore, a trauma surgeon and director of trauma research at the Shock Trauma Center in Denver, described to CNN the challenge for surgeons to repair the damage done by AR-15, stating, “I often use the analogy that the injury to the liver [with a semi-automatic rifle] would be similar to just taking a watermelon and dropping it on the cement. It’s incredible the amount of energy delivered. … By comparison, the 9-millimeter would drill a hole through the liver. So you’d have a sizable hole, but if you didn’t hit a major blood vessel, it’s a pretty tolerable injury. In fact, we in civilian trauma will often manage a 9-millimeter liver injury without an operation, whereas a patient with an assault rifle would be dead within 20 minutes if you didn’t operate.”
In 1994, AR-15-style rifles were largely banned in the U.S., as Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which prohibited the manufacturing of more than 100 firearms for civilian use, including the AR-15.
One research analysis found that mass shootings across the nation went down in the decade that followed, in comparison to the decade before and after.
Since 2004 when the ban sunset due to Congress failing to secure enough votes to renew it, prominent advocates, Democrats, and communities have called for gun safety measures and renewal of similar bans.
Despite a majority of Americans supporting gun control proposals, especially universal criminal and mental background checks (76% favor this strongly or somewhat) and the removal of guns from people who may be a danger to themselves or to others (67%), Republicans have embraced the most extreme elements of the gun lobby in the U.S.
With the NRA filling millions of dollars in the pockets of Republicans across the nation, gun safety and control policies have been stuck in limbo while the GOP pushes forth laws loosening gun restrictions.
The latest example comes from North Carolina, in which state Republicans made it easier to buy a handgun less than 48 hours after the horrific Nashville school shooting that claimed the lives of six people, including three elementary school students.
Amid national Republicans’ push to loosen gun laws, advocates, Democrats, and communities are pushing back and demanding for change.
“I think the determining factor is that people who have survived through these shootings throughout the past like 10 years, since Sandy Hook, we have lived it. We have gone through it. And now that we’re older and able to advocate,” Kurstin Howe, a sophomore at Meredith College, told Spectrum News. “We are going to create change to prevent other students from growing up in the environment that we had to grow up in.”