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How AR-15-style rifles write the tragic history of America's mass shootings

An attendee holds a Springfield Armory SAINT AR-15-style rifle displayed during the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Houston in 2022.
Patrick T. Fallon
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AFP via Getty Images
An attendee holds a Springfield Armory SAINT AR-15-style rifle displayed during the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Houston in 2022.

The weapon used to carry out the mass shooting at an outlet shopping mall in Allen, Texas,on Saturday that left eight people dead and seven others injured is one all too familiar to Americans and lawmakers who have witnessed mass shootings occur again and again.

Mauricio Garcia, 33, was seen on dashcam video opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle.

Garcia was carrying three weapons with him and had five more in his car — all legally obtained, according to Hank Sibley, regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The AR-15 has a long history in mass shootings in the U.S.

It's often called "America's Rifle"

AR-15-style rifles are displayed at Rainier Arms on April 14 in Auburn, Wash.
Lindsey Wasson / AP
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AP
AR-15-style rifles are displayed at Rainier Arms on April 14 in Auburn, Wash.

AR-15-style semiautomatic weapons are considered to be civilian versions of military weapons that gun control advocates say aren't very different. Its original military design dates back to the 1950s.

The AR-15, like its military version, is designed to kill people quickly and in large numbers. The National Rifle Association calls it "America's Rifle."

Critics say the weapon has no valid recreational use and civilians should not be allowed to own them.

The gun industry and gun owners say AR-15s are used for hunting, target practice and shooting competitions and should remain legal.

AR-15-style rifles are semiautomatic, which means a shooter must pull the trigger to fire each shot from a magazine that typically carries 30 rounds. A shooter with a fully automatic rifle can pull and hold the trigger and the weapon will fire until the ammunition supply is spent.

Fully automatic weapons have been heavily restricted in the U.S. since the 1934 National Firearms Act — which at the time was directed specifically against machine guns, as NPR reported in a 2018 history.

AR-15-style rifles were largely banned under the 1994 assault weapons ban

In this March 15, 2020 file photo people wait in a line to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif.
Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP
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AP
In this March 15, 2020 file photo people wait in a line to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapons ban, which banned the AR-15 and other similar semiautomatic rifles. The ban made it illegal to manufacture the weapon while also setting a limit on high-capacity magazines. Though as The Washington Post noted, there were plenty of loopholes.

The ban allowed weapons or magazines that were manufactured before the law went into effect in 1994 to be owned or resold.

Mass shootings across the U.S. went down in the decade that followed, in comparison to the decade before (1984-94) and the one after (2004-14), according to one researcher's analysis.

Once the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, gun manufacturers quickly began producing the guns and sales quickly rose.

The following is a partial list of when an AR-15-style weapon was used in a mass shooting:

  • May 24, 2022: The Uvalde, Texas, mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers.
  • May 14, 2022: The Buffalo, N.Y., Tops supermarket shooting that left 10 people dead.
  • Feb. 14, 2018: Shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Fla., leaves 17 people dead.
  • Nov. 5, 2017: The Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that claimed 26 lives.
  • Oct. 1, 2017: The Las Vegas slaughter of 58 people. Two others died later from their injuries.
  • June 12, 2016: The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead.
  • Dec. 2, 2015: The San Bernardino, Calif., shooting that killed 14 people.
  • Dec. 14, 2012: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took 27 lives.
  • Debates around gun control often focus on AR-15-style rifles

    There have been at least 208 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The shooting in Allen, Texas, is the second-deadliest shooting of the year in the U.S.

    After months of activism by families of victims of the Uvalde shooting, a committee of Texas state lawmakers on Monday moved forward with a gun control bill that would raise the legal age to buy an assault-style weapon to 21 years old. The bill will also prohibit firearm sales to those who are intoxicated or who have a protective order against them.

    The bill heads to the Texas House Calendar Committee and then to the state's House floor for further debate before its vote. It faces long odds of becoming law.

    After the shooting in Allen, President Biden again called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as other gun safety measures, such as universal background checks and ending immunity for gun manufacturers.

    Greg Myre contributed reporting.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Jonathan Franklin
    Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.