Monday, April 23, 2018
Public safety

Why the AR-15 has millions of fans: It’s simple, light and menacing

DOVER — Polls show at least 6 in 10 Americans want to ban guns like the AR-15 used to kill 17 people in six minutes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Owners of those semi-automatic rifles say that’s because so many Americans don’t understand these firearms.

"Most hunting rifles are more powerful than the AR-15," noted Joe Wicker, a home health business owner who chose an AR-15 to protect his Dover home because it is similar to the M4 carbine rifle he used serving two tours in Iraq. Familiarity makes it the safest choice for him.

"The AR-15 is really no more than the weapon of our day. It’s just a very basic weapon," said Wicker, 39, likening it to a .22-caliber rifle because it is light, simple and typically uses low-caliber rounds.

QUICK READ: Five things to know about the AR-15 rifle

POLL: "Vast majority" of Florida voters support stricter gun laws.

NO BAN: Florida House rejects considering ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

To understand why a ban on the weapons of war that keep starring in mass shooting tragedies is a non-starter to most Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington, put aside the guns-don’t-kill-people argument. Instead talk to some of the millions of people who buy these firearms to keep their families safe, to shoot at gun ranges or to hunt wildlife like coyotes or boars.

Most are not militia members, John Rambo wannabes or even NRA zealots, but your neighbors, cousins and local merchants. Many became acquainted with the weapon out of curiosity following mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Las Vegas and Aurora, Colo.

"The appeal is it’s fun to go out to a gun range, a safe location, and shoot multiple rounds at a fun speed and fun pace. And it’s relatively cheap as opposed to your (traditional) rifle that you’d use to go deer hunting," said Andrew Williams, a St. Petersburg manufacturing executive, who uses his AR-15s for target shooting and varmint hunting on his rural property in Alabama.

Menacing as they look with the high capacity clip, the AR-15 and its variants have become mainstream firearms, far more so than in 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed the federal assault weapons ban. It expired in 2004.

Visit a gun range today with a dozen people shooting and you’re likely to see eight target shooting with an AR-15. They have minimal recoil, the ammo is relatively inexpensive and they are simple to modify with grips, sights and other accessories.

Legos for adults is how some owners describe them. America’s Rifle, says the NRA.

No one knows how many Americans own an AR-15 or similar semiautomatic rifle because Congress forbids the government from keeping a registry of gun sales or even electronic records. Industry groups estimate Americans own anywhere from 5 million to 15 million AR-15s or similar rifles.

"I honestly believe that one of the biggest issues with the AR-15 debate is that so few people actually understand firearms or policy," said Thomas Grigsby, a political consultant in Tallahassee. "You’ve got the uber crazy ‘muh guns’ people over on one side, and the uber crazy ‘the AR-15 sprays 8,000 bullets per second’ crowd on the other side. Both sides are often completely void of fact or reason."

The basics: The AR-15 is a semiautomatic, meaning that it fires one round with each trigger pull, rather than a three-round burst as their military counterparts do. They cost as little as $700 or as much as $3,000.

The standard AR-15 comes with a 30-round magazine and typically uses .223 caliber rounds — very loud rounds. That causes horrific, often fatal, wounds in humans, especially compared to most handguns. But many hunters view it as too small of caliber to hunt big game humanely.

Linda Fox, a firearms instructor who owns a Pasco County wealth management company, doesn’t have much use for semiautomatic rifles, but she does occasionally bring her AK-47 to the range to teach students that you can’t necessarily judge a firearm by its appearance.

"I use it just for show, to show that you could put the stock of it up against your stomach and pull the trigger, and there’s no recoil," unlike a pistol, said Fox, 49.

A strong advocate for gun rights, Fox thinks it makes sense to bar people under 21 from purchasing a semiautomatic weapon.

So does Williams, the St. Petersburg executive, who also supports banning bump stocks that effectively turn an AR into an automatic weapon that fires repeatedly as the trigger is pressed. He doesn’t see how an outright ban would be effective but can see how limiting magazine clips to 20 rounds might also help keep more people safe.

Fox doubts that.

"The more bullets in the magazine, the quicker the gun is to jam," she said, recalling how the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooter in 2012 had an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine that jammed. "You could do more damage with a 5- or a 10-round clip than you could do with a 100-round, because that 100 is probably going to jam on you and that’s when people have the opportunity to run."

Others say it takes less than two seconds to change a clip, so it hardly matters how big the magazines are.

Sitting at his kitchen table in eastern Hillsborough County with his 18-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son playing nearby, Wicker said he can’t see any justification for limiting people’s magazine capacities. Think of a home invasion.

"When you’re in a high-stress situation like that, there is a great chance that you may only place on target one out of four, one out of five," said Wicker, who is running for a seat in the Florida House. "Thirty rounds may not actually equal 30 rounds when you find yourself actually trying to defend yourself from an assailant."

In the aftermath of Parkland, the AR-15 is all over the news with calls for a ban. The publicity and threat ensures more people will buy them.

"Right now the AR-15 is by far the most popular rifle in America. Simplicity of use and high reliability are also factors that play in to this. With the popularity of its use in mass shootings, well, I guess that comes part in parcel with its popularity," Grigsby said.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @AdamSmithTimes.

     
Comments
Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

TAMPA — A 68-year-old man was arrested Monday on a first-degree murder charge, according to Tampa police.Officers took James Leon Jackson into custody at 2712 W Nassau St. in west Tampa at about 1 p.m. A warrant for his arrest had been issued Friday....
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

TAMPA — The 1-month-old infant reported missing Monday was found hours later about 300 miles north in Quincy, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Sage Cooper was reported to be unharmed, officials said, and Gadsden County sheriff’s ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

ST. PETERSBURG — Photojournalist Michael Egger pulled into the apartment complex off 71st Avenue N on Monday afternoon, waiting for reporter Mark Douglas. The two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists were looking for someone — they wouldn’t say who — when they fou...
Updated: 6 hours ago
‘Tase me, and you’ll see what happens,’ an American Airlines flier said. Police did - 10 times.

‘Tase me, and you’ll see what happens,’ an American Airlines flier said. Police did - 10 times.

Washington PostWhat began as a simple boarding dispute at Miami International Airport escalated into a tour de force of plane drama on Sunday as a belligerent passenger was repeatedly stunned by police, forcibly carried out of his seat, then driven t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Deputies: Port Richey man admits molesting, attempting to rape 8-year-old girl

Deputies: Port Richey man admits molesting, attempting to rape 8-year-old girl

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 26-year-old man was arrested Friday on charges that he molested and attempted to rape an 8-year-old girl, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Kaleb Harrah, 26, of Port Richey, faces charges of attempted sexual battery o...
Updated: 8 hours ago
FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

TRINITY — A 49-year-old man was struck and killed early Monday morning by a sport-utility vehicle as he walked in the center of westbound Trinity Boulevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Phillip Meadows, of New Port Richey, was wearing dark...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

TAMPA — A man with a history of arrests for roadside soliciting has been found dead at the side of a road. Jess Paez, 51, was identified by Tampa police Monday as the victim of an apparent hit-and-run crash over the weekend. His body was found about ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The suspect in a quadruple homicide at a Nashville Waffle House was taken into custody Monday, police said. Authorities had mounted a massive manhunt for 29-year-old Travis Reinking, after the Sunday morning attacks. Authorities an...
Published: 04/23/18
Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Moments before the first shot, James Shaw Jr. was watching a Waffle House employee wash dishes, stacking them higher and higher. When the first shot was fired, Shaw thought the tower of plates had come crashing down, he would later recount at a news ...
Published: 04/23/18
Teen killed in Hernando crash was ‘always smiling and laughing’

Teen killed in Hernando crash was ‘always smiling and laughing’

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 11 hours ago