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Why are AR-15-style rifles becoming so popular?

Owners primarily say they buy them for self-defense. A Georgia State law professor says marketing, politics also play a role in the gun's popularity.
Why are AR-15-style rifles becoming so popular?
Posted at 10:46 AM, May 09, 2023

The AR-15 rifle has grown in popularity in recent years as surveys find it is in more and more households. 

A 2022 Washington Post survey found that about 20% of gun owners had an AR-15 rifle in their arsenal. 

But the rise in the rifle’s popularity has also come amid a rise in its usage in mass shootings. Progressive magazine Mother Jones compiled a list of rampage shootings in which at least four victims died. 

In recent years, the database noted that the AR-15 rifle was used in a number of mass shootings, including last weekend’s Dallas mall shooting and last year’s Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre. 

The same Washington Post poll did not find a consensus reason people buy AR-15s. The poll indicated that self-defense was the No. 1 reason for purchasing an AR-15 among 33% of owners. Recreation or fun was the No. 1 reason for 15% of owners, while another 15% said target shooting or taking to the range was the top reason. 

SEE MORE: Texas House advances bill to raise purchase age for certain guns

Timothy Lytton, professor at Georgia State’s Center for Law, Health and Society College of Law, told Scripps News that marketing and politics have also played a factor in the gun’s rising popularity. 

“I think that the weapon itself, besides just its popularity, has become a very powerful symbol and in some ways, it's caught in a kind of cycle,” Lytton said. "The more the weapon shows up in mass shootings, the more calls there are to ban it; and the more calls there are to ban it, the more people are intent on going out and buying the weapon; and the more people go out and buy the weapon, the harder it is to regulate the weapon, which makes it more likely to show up in these sorts of criminal shootings.”

Although a sizable number of Americans own guns (45%, according to a 2022 Gallup poll), a majority still support gun control laws. Gallup polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans say they prefer more strict gun laws over keeping gun laws the same or making them less strict. 

“It doesn't look like Congress is in a particularly good position to pass firearms legislation,” Lytton said. “Congress is as divided as ever and we're coming up on an election year, I wouldn't expect to see major gun legislation at a federal level this year in an election year.” 

Despite a reticence to new gun laws, some Republican-led states are considering them. For instance, a Texas committee voted Monday to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. The bill still needs to pass both chambers and get Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval.

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