By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – The weapon increasingly being used to commit mass murderers in the U.S. added a new chapter to its bloody history early Sunday morning when a man opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, claiming at least 50 lives.
The weapon used by Omar Mateen, 29, in what has been described as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was none other than a variant of the now infamous AR-15.
The assault rifle was last used in a mass shooting six months ago outside of Los Angeles when a self-radicalized married couple used illegally modified versions of the gun to open fire on a holiday party, killing 14 and wounding 21.
When James Holmes opened fire on a movie theater in Colorado in 2012 and killed 12 victims, one of the weapons in his arsenal was an AR-15 variant.
Before that, the assault rifle was used in 2012 to gun down 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The gun has become a flashpoint of its own for America’s never-ending debate on gun control, particularly the legal classification of assault-style rifles.
And proposed bans on the weapons have only increased purchases.
A 10-year ban expired in 2004 and lawmakers chose not to renew it.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology found "no evidence of reductions in multiple-victim gun homicides or multiple-gunshot wound victimizations" caused by the ban.
The weapons make it relatively easier for attackers to shoot more people in less time, and data compiled by the Mother Jones online news magazine show that of the 10 shootings with the highest number of casualties, which includes killed and wounded, assault rifles were used in seven of them.
All of this is compounded by America's relatively lax gun laws. Most states do not require background checks to purchase a firearm at a gun show, nor do most states require the buyer of a gun to present identification when purchasing from a private seller.
In Florida, where Omar Mateen killed at least 50 victims at the popular Pulse nightclub, authorities do no require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between private parties; require firearms dealers to obtain a state license; license firearm owners; require the registration of firearms; or regulate assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
There is, however, a ban on fully automatic guns, which has been in place since 1986. That was violated by Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik when they illegally modified their AR-15-type assault rifle and wrought carnage in San Bernardino.
The parents of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook massacre and one teacher who survived, are suing the manufacturer of the assault rifle that was used, saying that it never should have sold to a civilian.
Currently, a law prohibits gun manufacturers from civil lawsuits "resulting from the misuse of their products by others".
That suit will go to trial April 3, 2018.