Terms to Know About Guns When Discussing Mass Shootings


AR 15

AR-15 rifles for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 2017.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The AR-15 is a semiautomatic rifle and has been referred to by the National Rifle Association as “America’s most popular rifle.”

The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle” but is linked to the original manufacturer of the firearm: ArmaLite Inc. The name stands for ArmaLite Rifle.

The AR-15 was originally developed by ArmaLite to be a military rifle, designing it for fast reloading in combat situations, but the company hit financial troubles. By 1959, ArmaLite sold the design of the AR-15 to Colt, which had success in pitching it to the US military.

The rifle’s automatic version, the M-16, was used during the Vietnam War. Colt sold the semiautomatic version, the AR-15, to the public and the police.

“If you’re a hunter, camper, or collector, you’ll want the AR-15 Sporter,” a 1963 advertisement for the firearm said.

Colt’s patent on the rifle’s operating system expired in 1977, opening the door for other manufacturers to copy the technology and make their own models.

The AR-15 was prohibited from 1994 to 2004 via the assault-weapons ban. Gun manufacturers promptly reintroduced the AR-15 after the ban expired, and sales went way up. 

There are “well over 11 million” AR-15 style rifles in the hands of Americans, according to an investigation by CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” which also notes handguns kill “far more people.”

But AR-15-style rifles have frequently been used in mass shootings, placing the firearm at the center of the debate over gun control — particularly in relation to whether an assault-weapons ban should be reimposed.

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